Doomed if you Do. Doomed if you Don’t.

 

My first impulse when I saw an image of a Pastor using Doom (an insecticide) to cure his congregants or believers of various ailments, was to laugh. I mean the whole thing was ridiculous, it was unbelievable, it was shocking, it was all manner of things which made it both disturbing and funny for me. But I also had a personal reason for laughing because for me, the spread of doom into churches and timelines on social media networks mirrored an internal private struggle. So laughing  was a guilty pleasure. I know, it’s not funny.
You see my parents are obsessed with cleanliness, a trait which I’m sure is shared by most South African black parents. They hate germs with a passion and everything which could be associated with them including flies. Years ago we experienced plumbing problems at home which attracted all sorts of them. My parents often paired up in the fight against these pesty flies. They had special dish cloths for them and they would walk around the house hitting them and killing them, most times with impressive success. My father proved to be a great marks-man which delighted my mother to no end. She would call on him and say La, short for Love, there’s a fly in the room. He would walk in asking where? On her instructions he would search for it armed with his weapon of choice and strike it, dead on the floor. My mother who was sometimes not so successful  at annihilating the persistent pests would call on the name of Jesus to help her kill these flies when her marks-man was not around to assist. Generally there would be no rest until the flies were dead, swept up and thrown into the bin.
One year I decided to go home for Christmas armed with a new cook book by Jamie Oliver. My aim; to single-handedly cook Christmas lunch on my own for my family using Jamie’s’ recipes of course. It was an ambitious feat for I was generally accepted to be the worst cook in the family. When I arrived home I found that my parents had upgraded their weapons against these flies which had remained persistent despite the plumbing problem being resolved.
They found a more efficient way to kill them with  a spray, theirs was a brand called Target and not Doom. Still we call all sprays against insects and flies – doom, in the same way we call all non-alcoholic fizzy drinks, coke. Their doom, called Target,  was odourless and promised to kill them instantly. With their new spray my parents would wage biological war fare against these flies, and they didn’t have to be many, just one was enough to bring out an arsenal of weaponry.
All this time I found my parents’ obsession with these flies amusing, it was often humorous to see them trying to kill one. Until my father asked for doom while we were sitting at the table about to eat a Christmas meal (a meal, they confessed years later was inedible) which I had spent all morning preparing. He then proceeded to spray a  fly which was hovering over the table. The food was not covered and he just sprayed at the fly over the food. I caught myself afterward, Dad! I screamed – you’re spraying poison  over our food!  I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t make sense to me. I was so angry it took a while to recover from that scene. It was no longer funny. We were going to eat food laced with poisonous insecticide. Even though it was not as harmful to humans, the idea of doom in my food was as frightening to me as  flies with germs were to my parents. Cover the table, he said, but it was already too late. I suppose he wasn’t thinking then about the food that we were about to eat.  He was more  focused on the invisible germs the fly must have been spreading all over the food.
Today  Doom is being used  indiscriminately everywhere including the kitchen. We have to keep all doors and windows closed so that the flies don’t come into the house especially when we are cooking meat. Target is always on hand the second a fly is spotted anywhere in the house.
Sometimes the smell of Doom is like air-freshener at home. It is no longer odourless. Even though I have tried to speak to my parents about their method of mass destruction over the years, it’s a hard one to sell. Nobody likes or enjoys having flies around. Including me.
A moment of silence came one day when my father was standing outside and there was a fly milling about, he went into the house to fetch his weapon and doomed it against the open air.  My brother in-law who was there with his wife asked for the sake of sanity. Did I just see that? His wife confirmed to him that he was still very sane. Nothing was wrong with his eyes.  Yes you did,  she responded.
And so when I saw this picture I couldn’t help but laugh, because as ridiculous as it may seem to everyone, it makes sense.
You see, my parents’ hatred of flies is not only based on scientific fact that they spread germs and are annoying, but also on biblical verses in which God says in Genesis, that man shall have dominion over animals which includes pests like flies, ants, cockroaches and so forth. In Psalm 91 God offers his protection against all pestilences (flies) and plagues.
So it stands to reason that in the evangelical, Judaeo-Christian belief systems that Doom could be a cure too. Stay with me.

Demons  (which are responsible for every human suffering  including poverty and disease) are like flies: persistent, annoying and full of germs. Tolerating one is like opening the floodgates to an endless legion of more. You must be vigilant against them. Even though the doom incident could be seen as a very literal interpretation of scripture, no one can say the Pastor did not hear from God, and the power of God is in everything, of course. No one  disputes this. I decided not to share this news of a Pastor using Doom as a cure for his  congregants with my parents because I didn’t know how they would react.

So I remained silent until  one day while with my mother in her dressing room, I saw a can of doom on one of the shelves and I just couldn’t help myself. Have you heard the news? I asked her. What news she said. The power of doom has spread across the nation, I said jokingly. What do you mean, my mother asked. Well, there’s a Pastor who is using doom to protect his congregants against demons and pestilences, to cure various illnesses. He says God spoke to him about it.  I laughed a little and said  you and dad were on to something.  But from the look she gave me I knew that it was simply too soon, to laugh.

Let’s try again next year!

 

 

INTERVIEW:WHAT’S WRONG WITH BREAD?

Today I want to talk about a subject close to my heart: Food and why millions of well-fed people are dying of hunger, today. See report here.  Why do we eat what we eat? Ever asked yourself that question? Without thinking about weight loss. Why Burger King and not Chisanyama? Why Mcdonalds instead of Nandos? Why buy food at WoolWorths instead of cooking the food yourself? Why go to the Food Lovers’ market instead of the local farmer’s market or street vendors who sell fresh produce? What influences your choices? Is it the country you live in? Is it the car you drive? Where you live? Where you work? The work that you do? Where you went to school? Hygiene? Time? Social and economic status? What are the set of values which influence your decision making process when you go shopping for food or when you decide on a restaurant to eat at? Is taste the only deciding factor? Service? Money? Personal Preferences, Culture, Tradition, Politics, Comfort or Ease?

Do you ever think about it?

I started to think about these questions more deeply in the process of trying to understand how my mind works. I started to notice specific behavioural patterns induced by varying stages or degrees of hunger in my own life. When I started to pay attention to what hunger does to the physiology of the body, its biological functions – I started to see amazing connections between how those energy systems or energy in motion (emotions) influence how I felt, how those feelings influenced my thoughts, how those thoughts influenced my actions or behaviour which then produced certain outcomes or results. Food then was not simply just stuff I consumed to stay alive, but the kind of food I ate also influenced the quality of the life I led.  The more I searched deeper and deeper I began to discover that what I eat, not only influences my health or what I look like, but most importantly how my thoughts are formed. Access to food influences how I think about myself and the world around me. The food I eat on a daily basis actually directly influences the quality and kinds of thoughts I think every day.

Can you imagine that?

I suppose we all know this. The choices you make when you are hungry are very different to those you make when you are full. The choices you make after you’ve eaten a large burger are different from the ones you make after eating a bowl of fresh greens, simply because the nutritional value is different. The fuel is different. The chemical digestive Process is different.  It’s the difference between drinking water and having a shot of vodka. Not only is food essential for brain function but the type of food we eat can enhance or impair how our brain works, how we think, feel and behave.

So what’s wrong with Bread?

Paying attention to my body (biology) helped me to understand the intricacies of the global food system. While the question of how food systems work or how your plate of food influences labour and the economy is too complex to unravel in one simple blogpost, I thought we should at least start to think about how we acquire the food we eat and what it does to us our bodies and the world we must continue to live in once we‘ve eaten it.

Food like politics makes the world go round.  Whole revolutions have been started by a lack of certain foods. So I decided to enlist the help of a dear friend Brittany Kesselman who is a food systems researcher and founder of Jozi(Un)cooked to help me understand how food systems work outside of my body and how those systems impact on my food choices and ultimately my perspective on life or the quality of my thoughts. Ms K can see all the way down the alphabet when it comes to food, so I thought I should ask once and for all what, if anything is wrong with bread (read food) and what I can do about it.

JediW: What’s wrong with bread?

BrittanyK: Many things are wrong with bread and nothing is wrong with bread. The current dehumanization of bread as the evil food responsible for everyone being overweight and unhealthy I think is a bit unfair to bread. But at the same time bread as we know it today – in the mainstream in the supermarkets is in some ways worthy of that characterization because it is made of highly processed, heavily sprayed with chemicals, industrially produced artificial ingredients that are designed to travel long distances and stay on the shelves for a long time and so they are incredibly unhealthy and are responsible for people being over-weight and under nourished.

This bread is nothing like the daily bread of the past.

JW: Are you suggesting that we do away with bread? People can hardly afford it as it is.

Bk: I’m suggesting that we radically overhaul the food system so that it doesn’t produce bread like that anymore. In fact the consumption of bread as a staple in this country (South Africa) by the majority of the population is only about a 50 or 60 year old phenomena. People didn’t eat bread but in the bad old days (Apartheid/colonial era) there were farmer co-ops they artificially lowered the price of bread and pushed it to become a staple for the underpaid labouring majority who hadn’t been previously eating bread and now when the government just raised the wheat tariff to protect wheat farmers in this country, people worried that it would increase the bread price, in fact only about 30 percent of the price of bread is related to the price of wheat.  Which is odd because if you made bread properly, if you just make it and ate it, about 95 percent of your bread price would be based on wheat.

There’s marketing, transport, packaging, the price of bread is not reflective of the ingredients used to make bread but is reflective of all those other things. The costs are born out of this long distance food systems. If you had someone growing wheat nearby, if you had someone milling wheat nearby and baking bread nearby it wouldn’t have to cost so much.

JW: But there’s a bakery  down the road here  which bakes bread every day and bread there costs twice as much as the standard bread loaves found in mainstream supermarkets?

Their bread is pricey because the current food system favours mass production instead of small scale production. So people receive benefits like access to credit and other things from the government for being large which gives them an unfair advantage and that enables them to have very low prices. But they still have all of these other costs that they then add in that makes the prices go up. If you pay labour a fair price and you grow a quality ingredient then it’s also true that food shouldn’t be super cheap, cheap, cheap. Because farming very is hard work and producing food is hard work and so it does have costs and the costs in some ways are artificially low even though they seem to be too expensive for other people because everyone is unemployed. The reality is if you had the proper cost for food to reflect its actual value – good food – then you’d have to pay more for it. People would have to be paid fairly across the economic chain in order for them to afford good food. It takes cheap food to create cheap labour and none of those things should be cheap.

JW: I’m not sure that many people would want to think about what you’ve just said when deciding on what to eat for lunch?

BK: It’s a lot to think about. But for someone who is struggling to buy that loaf of bread might wish to be aware that it’s not their individual fault that they are struggling to buy that loaf of bread but it’s the system. The system that creates that bread is the very same system that leaves them unemployed or working on a job where they can still not afford to buy bread.  And so at the moment good food costs more than it should but some of it is not that expensive. So a bag of lentils is not expensive but goes a long way in terms of calories and nutrients.  A head of cabbage is not so expensive it goes a long way as well. So someone might need to keep buying that bread and fill up on calories right now but could perhaps mixed it in with more healthy items and then we need to start advocating for changing to the systems so that people can afford good food.

JW: Oh my god lentils, I think they’re so boring!

BK: Lentils are not boring, the entire Indian Sub-continent eats them every day and they taste delicious. I mean is mealie meal exciting food? A great deal of this country according to studies live on plain bread or mealie meal, most of the time. That’s not exciting food either, it’s what people can manage, so if you can manage something else that’s better for you… Lentils are not familiar and the fact is lentils are not indigenous to this region but other beans are and nobody is eating those anymore like Bambara beans? It’s not something you see, those are indigenous to South Africa, what happened to Bambara beans? Millet is indigenous to Africa, why aren’t we eating millet?  The thing is these things can grow more cheaply, wheat is  not indigenous to this region so growing wheat here sometimes involves acquiring more chemicals or more water or more costs compared to growing something more indigenous.

JW: Is paying less for bread the solution? #BreadPriceMustfall

BK:The fact that a small number of corporations – the oligopolies of the world own every stage of the food systems in this country from the fertilizers to the seeds, to the large still white-owned commercial farms to the few dealers and a few retailers, all of those oligopolies are making billions of rands in profit while people can’t afford to eat. And the point of the BreadPricesMustfall campaign is that it’s unfair, unjust if not criminal that they could be making billions, while people can’t afford to eat. It’s not as though they are selling the bread at cost, or close to at cost, they are making literally billions! And I would agree that if you treat food as a human right which is what it is according to the South African constitution other than a commodity then you don’t make it about profit you make it about a public good. But ultimately what we should pay less for is not chemical laden, nutrient poor white bread, we should pay less for good food.

JW: How do you define good food?

BK: Good food is nourishing. Not only to your body biologically but also to your spirit. Good food is food that was not produced through exploiting workers, it was not produced by destroying the planet, it was not produced with chemicals, and it is produced with love in traditional ways that then nourish your body and your community and your planet. And Ideally you will then sit down and enjoy that good food with good people around you, so that it’s actually an entire experience and not something you eat while driving your car or sitting at your desk at work.

JW: I’ve never consciously thought of food as a human right, like water. I’ve always thought that if I want food I must go out and work for it. I’ve never thought that my right to life equates to the right to food? Is that crazy?

BK: In this neoliberal world we’ve come to think of food as something you have to pay for, in many ways water has also become something that we pay for, land is something that we pay for and before we know it air will be something that we pay for. That’s the spread of neo-liberalism, the idea that everything falls under the market place.  But I think we need to take certain key things back out of that market system or at least recognize that they are beyond the market system and food is definitely one of them. Because if you don’t have food you cannot enjoy a single other human right. There’s no point in having a right to vote, or a right to education if you don’t eat because, you’re dead.

JW: Are there healthy food systems in the world we could emulate? How can an individual affect change?

BK: It’s challenging because the oligopolistic industrial system is certainly the main one at the moment globally. To seek to imagine alternatives, sometimes it’s more imagining than seeing, but there are pockets of alternatives that have sprouted up all over the place. And are spreading and give us glimmers of hope and some examples like, in Cuba out of necessity when the Soviet Union fell no longer had support from the communist bloc , they had to make another plan because suddenly there was no  cheap petrol coming in and cheap fertilizers, so they transformed the entire agricultural system.

In Chiapas, Mexico you see more of a solidarity economy, in Malawi to a more agro-ecological approach and also changing gender relations within the food system so that they can produce healthy food by involving both men and women in these tasks, so there are little pockets. You see people occupying land in Brazil, you see people saying no to genetically modified expensive seeds and chemicals opting to use agro-ecological approaches, you see people trying to save heirloom seeds and bring back traditional varieties instead of the few mono-cultures that people tend to grow now. So there are pockets were people are either fighting back or imagining new futures or going back to traditional ways which worked well before.

JW: Does buying Organic Food from Supermarkets help?

BK: Look if you’re buying organic from the shop, yes you’re buying a product that wasn’t sprayed with thousands of chemicals and already that’s an improvement. And you’re also sending a market signal through the retailers to the farmers that there is demand for this type of alternative way of production. But if you’re buying it from the supermarket from one of those few retailers which control the entire retail sector then you’re not exactly striking a blow to the entire economic system behind the food chains. So if you have the option of doing it, it is certainly worth doing, but buying organic won’t change the system.

JW: What more would we need to do?

BK: We need to find alternative means of sourcing our food, we need to get out of the supermarkets if we can and buy from small farmers who get such a small percentage of the price when we buy from supermarkets, but if you can skip the supermarket and the other middlemen and purchase your food directly from farmers we can both negotiate a fair price. We can also communicate directly with the farmers about what we want and the types of food they can grow, so it gives the producer and the consumer more control.

JW: But wouldn’t that be inconvenient?

BK:Maybe, but it has become inconvenient because our entire systems of living have changed. In many parts of the world both in the north and the south there are weekly if not daily famers markets, people go and buy fresh things and they buy them because they are good. Why don’t we have that?

 JW: How effective are food gardens in changing the system?

BK:On the one hand they don’t have a big impact in terms of how much food they are able to produce. It’s not likely that the city will be able to feed itself ever.  But on the other hand they have a very big impact first because they reconnect people to their food. Remember there are children who don’t even know where their food comes from or that a vegetable grows from the ground and that’s extraordinary. When people in the community are growing different food they can start to trade it, they can start to share it and they begin to step out of the main economy as well. We can re-establish those community bonds over food which the supermarket takes away from us.

JW: Isn’t that like going backwards? Isn’t that old and boring, haven’t we evolved from that?

I think the modernist notion of progress is something that is questionable. It’s only the neoliberalist system that has convinced us that living an individualistic, career cantered life is of value. Many of the values that may have been lost along the way are certainly worth reviving and preserving.

JW: But Why though? I think some people might aspire to one day being able to afford Burger King…

Brittany K: And once they are able to afford Burger King they will find that they are not any happier! Once they can afford Burger KING and KFC they will still not be any happier. But they will have a higher chance of getting a heart attack or a stroke or Diabetes of Hypertension. The singular focus on wealth as the path to happiness is ridiculous, because it minimizes all of our other elements as human beings and we’re multidimensional creatures if we put all our focus on one dimension we will never be happy. It’s not as if there is a lower incidents of depression amongst the wealthy. That’s just strictly not true.

JW: So would baking your own bread be a solution to the current nutrient deficient bread sold at supermarkets?

BK:Your questions don’t have easy answers. In some ways yes, of course it would. Baking bread is extremely therapeutic you knead the bread and it’s like giving yourself a massage! But if you have to buy the mainstream bread of that flour to make that bread, it’s not significantly radical and in our rushed time pressed world people will find that they don’t have time to bake bread or don’t want to make time to bake bread. But if you start to break bread, if you find it therapeutic then you might look for better alternatives to the flour, find someone who is producing or selling such a thing and in another way then you’re getting out of the main stream and finding another way and you might find yourself baking more bread and sharing it with your neighbours. And then yes the might be a change.

JW: So the problem with bread is the flour?

BK:The problem with bread is the ten things I’ve said before. Certainly, flour is sprayed with chemicals and refined  to  no longer resemble the wheat that it once was in any way shape or form, our bodies don’t even recognize that it’s a food by the time it get into our system. There’s nothing so wrong with Wheat per se, human beings have consumed wheat for about ten thousand years but by the time it becomes that white flour in the supermarket it’s not food anymore.

JW: So are you saying that there’s not nutritional value whatsoever in the bread we buy at super markets even though they say it’s got added vitamins?

BKRaj Patel gives an amazing talk about poverty and added vitamins. Taking all of the nutrients out of an ingredient that originally had them because it looks better and lasts longer better and then pumping all the vitamins at the end is the ultimate capitalist way to approach food. Whereas using the fresh ingredient in its natural state with its original nutrients and then consuming it fairly quickly meaning there’s no shipping or transportation costs would be a better approach. But multinationals don’t benefit from that.

JW: So if I stopped buying from them would that change anything?

BK:Having worker owned co-operatives is certainly a solution. Places like Brazil and Argentina they have a lot of worker own co-operatives which tend to have more than just a profit motive, they have other social objectives to their businesses and they of course would want to make enough money to benefit those who participate from it but they care about their communities as well. Because they understand that they are embedded in those communities. So I cannot just say walk away from your job to those people who need that job but those who are in a position to look into alternatives and eventually create jobs from them should certainly do so.

Brittany Kesselman is a food systems researcher and founder of JoziUncooked, Johannesburg’s first raw food company. You can visit her website at JoziUncooked.com

*pictured: Bread-seller turned model, Olajumoke. credit: cnn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE STAR: FRAGMENTS OF A TRUE STORY

“Philile is this not your cousin?’ Karabo shouted loudly across the newsroom. “Who?” Philie asked suddenly feeling uneasy. She rose from her desk and ambled across the room to Karabo’s desk who was holding up a copy of the daily newspaper. Philile berated herself for neglecting to read the papers as vociferously as Karabo did. But before she could get close enough to read the story, she saw it, pictured on the front page. She knew that kitchen better than the back of her hand. How could it be she wondered.  She felt her stomach churn and wondered why her childhood home kitchen made the front page of The Star Newspaper.  She cringed. She couldn’t think of anything to say in that moment except to convince herself that it was some kind of mistake. But there was no mistake. The number was there too, as clear and as real as sunshine on Sunday: 7224, in black and yellow, the first number she memorized in her entire life. The picture told a story of black poverty, suffering, persistence and the triumph of the human spirit. The story of the previously disadvantaged.  She moved closer as if approaching a dangerous animal and read that a young girl had written an exceptional essay which touched the heart of the richest, most famous and influential black woman alive, Oprah Winfrey.  She felt as if she was dreaming.  She read the story as if it were about someone else as if it had nothing to do with her. The young girl demonstrated exceptional talent and strength of character the article continued. She dodged the bullet of poverty, she was now the answer, the only hope for the Zwide family who lived on top of each other in near abject poverty, dependent on a government grant. A symbol of unemployment in one single picture, and yet its poverty was unremarkable, she thought sadly. 7224 was a typical black household in which 11 people shared a three bedroom house. It was not a unique situation in black townships in the country.  She couldn’t read any further. She suddenly felt unwell. It was too much to take in. The kitchen was as she remembered it in her mind, the interior was exactly the same as it had been when she was a little girl, except this time the ceiling was falling apart. It was dramatic in its demise – a large square piece of plasterboard hung loose, revealing a darkness which seemed to pour over the green enamel kitchen table with silver legs.  She knew that table too well, that’s where she often sat and plastered her grandmother with a million questions or watched as her Mamani’s square fingers carefully cut slices of buttered brown bread into squares, dip them into her milky tea. Philile would follow her grandmother’s fingers as they placed the bread on the open tongue leaving traces of the caramel coloured tea between the crevices of her tiny lips, blackened from cigarette smoke. Her grandmother would wash down the creamy paste of bread with a gulp of tea and exclaim “mmtah Ahhh” with satisfaction.  It was during those times, usually Saturday mornings during breakfast when her Mamani would look back at her and say “What are you looking at?” puckering her lips into a playful kiss while rolling her big brown eyes. “Nothing” Philile would say smiling. She enjoyed gazing at her Mamani who had the most fascinating face her five-year old self could imagine. Mamani’s face could change from sweet, playful and coy to angry, sad and frightening in a millisecond. Philile studied her face with the concentration of a student cramming for an important exam, the only difference being that she was not going to be tested on it and she enjoyed every single moment of it.  It calmed her to watch her grandmother breath in and out,  inhaling  and puffing out smoke from her favourite Rothmans King Size cigarettes or chewing on her gum, making sharp sounds as if she was hand washing it vigorously in soapy slippery water. This picture worked for news, she thought coming back to reality. She wanted to look away but she could not peel her eyes away from the picture, it suddenly came alive and she was stuck watching her life as if it were a movie. She couldn’t even blink, her eyes were fixated on that kitchen, which stood starkly bare as if stripped of any comfort resembling a home. It looked as if a gush of wind had swept through it taken all the warmth and left a gaping hole in the middle of the kitchen.  The cold hug of shame embraced her, forcing her head to bend over, her knees were weakening.  Her shoulders drooped slightly, her heartbeat perhaps had stopped or maybe it had become too loud to hear. She hoped that her face would not betray any emotion. Was it possible that such good news could strip her naked and make her feel so vulnerable and insecure? The story was not about her after all, she thought. Yet Philile was haunted by the ghost of the kitchen. She just couldn’t believe that it was on the front page of a national newspaper, a national newspaper? “Here” Karabo interrupted her thoughts which seemed to flood her mind faster than the speed of sound. “It says here her mother, Nana Zwide says the family is proud of Pretty. She’s your cousin, didn’t you say Nana was your cousin? I saw you with her the other day” She said glancing at the paper and continuing to read “look, her daughter, pretty, has been chosen  for a scholarship! She’s going to the Oprah school! Why didn’t you tell me?!” Karabo turned to look at Philile who smiled, but couldn’t find anything of significance to say. She was feeling dizzy now. “Wow” she said clearing her throat “I didn’t know Oprah was opening a school for girls” she said pretending to read further but her eyes took her into the kitchen. “Vanessahhh! Melitahhh! Come here my children.”She could hear her grandmother’s sweet voice calling which meant that nice things were about to happen.   “Philile are you listening to me, you didn’t know Kanti?” Karabo nudging her. But Karabo’s voice was drowned out by the music growing in Philile’s head. “Are you lovo this time, forever be my sweety!” Nhlanhla No popi! Wozan’la! Amakhekhe Mntanami. Cula! Ngiyidlabha min’angizi thandi mina! Futhi! Ngiyi dlabha Mina angizithandi Mina!

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“Phi. Li. Le!!!” Karabo was now desperate for her attention. She looked up at her and thought maybe she was still reading. “Philile!!!”  She tried again, but Philile didn’t seem to hear Karabo’s repeated calls. She was listening to something else, a sound she would never forget. The noise the gate made each time someone opened it was unmistakable.  She heard it keenly this time. Maybe a mix of a shrill soprano, the sound of a metal a sheet of glass, the treble and bass were the final sounds which repeatedly banged a hello and goodbye every single day. No, she thought, the sound of thunder was a more accurate description of the sound. She could visualize the gate under her bed-covers while looking through the tiny holes in the crocheted red bedspread at night.  She would try to fit her finger through them, making the holes bigger while willing sleep to come or go away depending on the intensity of conversations in the kitchen. 7224 was a loud and proud household. Her ears never got any rest. They were always pricked up like that of a puppy each time she heard something new.  For as long as 7224 was her home, the black corrugated iron gate was like a door to her heart,  each pull meant love was coming or leaving.  On some very rare occasion she would be able to guess who was coming and who was leaving.  When she was not at school she would sit perched on the family’s apple tree, her eyes pinned on the gate, waiting, for someone to open and come in.

A romantic serenade

Philile shared her bedroom which opened out into the  kitchen door with her older sister Khethiwe.  Together they enjoyed making up stories with characters who came alive in miniature plastic figurines and teeny tiny dolls their Mamani had brought from domestic work. Each character was given names to fit every story her sister Khethiwe came up with. One of Philile’s favourite characters was a green tennis ball whose face had been drawn on with a red crayon. She was particularly proud of the tennis character. It was the best looking of them all she thought, round and pretty like her Mamani. She also enjoyed the shell, a silver and coral seashell. It was her, she was the tiny seashell. Those were her favourite toys. Her sister loved the little dolls with multi-coloured hair. There was never a day without a party in their plastic universe. Romantic ballads were popular with party goers too, even though they were monotonous.  “Are you lovo this time, forever, be my sweety!” That was their Island theme song. Philile loved it because they came up with it all by themselves, it was their song about love. Khethiwe enjoyed telling love stories, she was good at creating beautiful dialogues which often went well into the night and lulled Philile to sleep with her left thumb firmly placed inside the crown of her mouth. Her stories always involved people falling in and out of love, kissing and getting married. Khethiwe was three years older than Philile, and much wiser.  “It’s my turn now” Philile would say, but found she could not make up stories as easily or as creatively as her sister could. So she opted to sing instead, because Khethiwe’s tales were far superior. “Are you lovo this time, forever, be my sweety!” It was Khethiwe who had come up with the song too.  The storytelling and singing would continue indefinitely until their Mamani’s voice would interrupt their carefully constructed scenes with her questioning calls.” Nhlanhla no Popi”?! Her voice would bellow over their plastic story scenes making their heads to spring up, alert like chicken heads. They would respond “Ma?!” in unison hoping they had not done anything wrong. “Nenzani? What are you doing” she would demand, worried that they had become too quiet to be up to something good. “We’re playing” they’d say. In the quiet Khethiwe would look over at Philile and say “Ayeye Phili! What have you done this time!” hoping to scare Philile even more than she already was.  Philile was the naughtiest of the two girls, her inquisitiveness often put her in hot water. They listened for a follow-up question but their grandmother had already moved on to adult conversation. Mamani called them different names for different reasons. The names Nhlanhla and Popi were reserved for serious occasions.

A 20 second sound bite

But she could still hear it. The screeching, treble and bass bangs of the gate as adept fingers hooked and pulled the lever out of its concrete hole, the soft and cold sound was unforgettable. It was as if they pulled the piece of metal out of her very own ears. She touched her ears to dust off imaginary films of earth which trickled down her earlobe as the metal scraped against dry concrete. She had never heard a sound as acute as that of the gate opening. Perhaps she had heard it so many times it had been amplified in her brain. It sometimes made her emotional. The sound was becoming louder and louder and louder and louder and louder.   “Philile!!!” Karabo hit her desk with the newspaper. “Hella ngwana” she demanded. “How many times must I call your name!”  She exclaimed with some exasperation. “Huh” Philile croaked, looking up and  surprised to find herself back at her desk. She didn’t remember when she had stopped reading the paper and returned to her desk.  But with Karabo now standing over her, she feared  it wound sound rather mental to ask her when and how she got to where she was, the best she could do then was  to just go with the flow. She really ought to remember such details she thought.  “What is it?” she asked lifting her head to meet Karabo’s confused penetrating eyes. “Do you have her number?” she asked. “Whose number? Philie asked still in a half dream state. “Your cousin, Nana’s numbers, I want to get a soundbite from her” A soundbite she thought as if she’d never heard that word before. “A soundbite” She repeated out loud urging herself to stay present. “Ja, I still can’t believe you didn’t tell me, how come you didn’t know?” Karabo continued as if Philile had been listening to her all along. “Now the newspapers have beaten me to it” She said dejectedly. Karabo was a former newspaper journalist who specialized in education. She had recently joined the radio newsroom and was very excited that she could update stories as they happened and not have to wait for the paper to go to print to be read the next day.  The idea that all she needed for a new story was a four line paragraph with a 20 second actuality from a newsmaker was the height of her excitement. She detested being the last to know, always aiming to be the first to break the news. She was a petite woman with a wide smile which revealed the gap on her front teeth. She reminded her of her older sister Khethiwe. Her loud boisterous, competitive and sometimes aggressive quest for news was mitigated by an even bigger open heart which won her many admirers.  In her Philile saw the kind of quintessential news-hound she’d only read about in her journalism classes. She not only loved the news, it was the very air she breathed. ”Oh” Philile responded wishing she were someone else, in a different world, living a different life, but she just didn’t have  a picture of that world yet, she had no idea of what this “other” life would look like.  “Yes sure” she said rummaging through her bag in search of her cell phone. “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me” Karabo said again trying to get Philile to say more than the monosyllabic responses she’d given so far.  “Oh I’m sorry” Philile said finally managing to say one coherent sentence “I didn’t know” she said in a whisper. “You didn’t know, Hellang Basadi!!!?” Karabo raised her voice like the women who sold corn or mealies on random Sunday mornings. They called out as if in a dirge “Miiiiiilies, Milliiiiiies!”.   “Here” Philile said avoiding her question and giving her Nanas’ numbers on a piece of paper she had torn off her reporter’s notebook on her desk. Her heart was beating fast. “Let me call her first, to let her know you’ll be calling”

“Cool Mosadi” said Karabo giving Philile a second glance before going back to her desk.

A fool for love

Later after she’d made the courtesy call to her cousin Nana. Philile wondered if she should tell her mother the news. But she wasn’t sure if it would matter. It was not like they knew Pretty, Nana’s daughter.  She remembered the first time she learnt that Pretty was coming, she had been devastated.  She remembers how sad she had been when Nana wrote her a letter saying that she was pregnant, expecting a child very soon which meant that she would have to give up school. That hurt. Because Philile adored Nana, her beautiful light-skinned cousin with a winning smile. She used to follow her everywhere as a child, she was Nana’s shadow or at least she tried very hard to be.  Philile giggled out loud shaking her head. She was laughing at a famous memory in her collection which she now gently dived into, she was always a sucker for love.  It was a memory of a day when she had forgotten to wear underwear to school because she had been in an unimaginable hurry to take up Nana’s surprise invitation to accompany her on her  trip to drop off  sister Dani to pre-school, before heading to high school.  Philile was in the second grade and her school was not far from Nana’s. In fact she had barely finished taking a bath before she was out the door running after Nana and Dani.   The story would have ended well enough if she had the key to her room and could go back home and correct her error before going to class after she felt a very fresh breeze under her dungarees alerting her of her oversight mid stroll. But even then nobody would have known that she was not wearing any underwear had she not on that very day arrived to find her classmates busily showing off their new underwear in front of very curious young boys and envious girls an event which caused a lot of  commotion and drew the entire class to congregate around an empty desk in the front row,  which happened to be hers. So that even though she could have slipped quietly by without being noticed she was forced to confront the scene. She stared at the girls as they showed each other their brand new pretty panties. She stood right in front of one newly exposed  which  was pure white cotton with a pink pretty doll in front, all the while she was freezing inside, trembling because unlike these girls she had no panties on at all.  “What are you looking at” shouted another bully at her.  How did she end up here? Philile wondered petrified.  “Nothing” she responded defiantly  yet unsure of how her look of terror became a look of contempt in the eyes of her classmates. She didn’t remember the details of what happened next only that she saw her hand pulling a girls tunic up to reveal her leopard print panties in a moment of deranged confidence. Aware of what was to come she stood stoically and accepted her fate as her classmate returned the favour and revealed her nakedness to the entire classroom. She closed her eyes tightly and let the laughter that followed sink into every pore of her body as a chorus of shrill, frenzied laughter overpowered the room, in seconds the classroom resembled scenes from born again Christian prayer lines where congregants fell on top of each other high and drunk on the Holy Spirit. Her classmates were falling over themselves, writhing  like worms on top of each other with laughter which seemed to gain increasing momentum, each wave louder than the last with every passing second. That was the biggest news at school, soon everyone will know including the teachers that she didn’t have her underwear on.  Philile was beyond embarrassed. Her morning which began with a glorious answer to a prayer had turned out to be the most embarrassing event in her short life. But all of it had been caused by love, by answering a blind overpowering desire to walk next her goddess, Nana,  to be loved, valued and accepted, cherished, wanted by her, in her quest to belong in her world she had forgotten to look after herself.  Philile loved everything about Nana, her thick head full of jet black hair, heart-shaped lips, a sharp pointy nose and inquisitive eyes. She was exquisitely beautiful, like a Barbie doll. Nana was Philile’s miss world, queen and princess of the universe, the second princess next to Philile’s own mother, who was as yet unrivaled in her superpowers. But she knew from a thousand and one repeated warnings  from her ultimate icon, her mother gave that pregnancy at a young age was bad news for young girls. It signaled the end of a bright future for all women. Children were bad news in the Zwide family.  So she felt Nana’s pain as keenly as if it were her who had fallen pregnant, as if it were her future which had been stopped mid-flight. No rock would be large enough to hide her bulging belly from her mother’s wrath she thought. She shuddered at the thought. Pregnancy was a frightening consequence of being a woman. It was something to be avoided at all costs. Even so  Philile was secretly glad and pleased in a self-congratulatory way that Nana had chosen to confide in her, that she thought her old enough to handle such adult matters.

I think I must be dreaming

But that was a very long time ago. Now this gift, Pretty, who caused Nana to lay down her life had grown into an intelligent super human whose story touched the heart of the world’s most soft-hearted person, the queen of talk herself, Oprah. None of them could have dreamt of anything this big.  It was a big story, not only for the Zwide family, but for South Africa. Ms Winfrey had planted  a seed of renewed hope for the country’s promising, yet, disadvantaged young girls. The Oprah Winfrey School for girls was yet another testament to Nelson Mandela’s thriving rainbow nation.   Philile was happy for Nana, because Nana loved books. Philile loved books too, books about love. She hoped to one day write one book at least, a funny tale about love. Nana now had a second chance in life through Pretty, Philile thought. Her dreams of obtaining a great education had been made a reality through her child. She would be receiving the best education money could buy, paid with the best money in the world. She had one less thing to worry about because Ms Winfrey did not spare a dime for her girls. She went all in and all out to give the girls the very best of everything she never had as a child herself. While under Oprah’s able care the girls were guaranteed to receive the best of everything they could collectively wish for. A dream come true for any parent.  A bright future had not been lost after-all, it just came from a very different direction. She was pleased for both of them.

A dive into the rabbit hole

Yet Philile could not erase the picture of that kitchen. These good news had brought up so much confusion to her soul.  It was starkly prominent as a sign of what her parents had saved her from, open gaping ceilings with dark holes, teenage pregnancies, drug addiction, unemployment, lack of inspiration. These were hallmarks of black townships, black lives, of Apartheid. People were tired of that word “Apartheid”. What did it have to do with one teenage girl’s decision to have unprotected sex with another teenager? Did she consent to it? Was she forced? Did she even know she could fall pregnant? In any case what does Apartheid have to do with any of it? She was tired of Apartheid. Philile’s thoughts ran away with her as she packed her bag, clearing her desk to go home. Her day at the office had ended immediately when she saw her childhood kitchen on the front page of the newspaper. She couldn’t focus on anything other than the kitchen, it was on the front page, and a front page story was a big deal, the Holy Grail for any journalist. She was glad she didn’t have a story to cover that day, she needed to recover from the news. If anyone asked why she was leaving early she could just blame it on Apartheid.  It was because of Apartheid that her childhood home had become the post card image for black poverty in the country. Poor Apartheid. She felt herself feeling sorry for it, the word, she wasn’t sure how to even pronounce it, was it Apart- heid, or Apar-th-eid? She preferred the word racism. It was less complicated, it was unambiguous, at least not in her context.  With racism, she was always the victim. She was always at a disadvantage, she was morally justified to feel insecure or hard done by. It was a convenient word. Racism was as powerful as the name of Jesus Christ and likewise many did not enjoy the sound of it.  You can  bring a whole party  to a standstill anywhere in the world by pulling the race card. The word proved too heavy. Too much. Apartheid was more palatable and less overwhelming.  Racism was indiscriminate, every white person living could be accused of racism, they could be deemed racists by association, in fact, she thought there could be a new word for them, previously racist people.  All the black and brown people could be victims.  Apartheid on the other hand offered some room for exclusion – not all white people, just some white South African Afrikaaners or boers (people of Dutch, German and French decent).  Apartheid was easy to fold and pack away in a nice file, it was a deranged regime, created by a specific class of white people – bitter outcasts from Europe. It was by no means as universal as the word Racism. White people from other countries can talk with ease, concern and even display utter disgust at “Apartheid” because they were not implicated in it at all.

Same same Auntie

Apartheid was surpassed only by the Holocaust in its brutality, and crusades by the Klu Klux Klan of America were simplistic by comparison. Yet how did it come about that a minority group could over power, a whole continent of people? Wasn’t it proof that the former is indeed superior?  Even so Apartheid proved very handy, it was a great place to put all your worries, it accommodated everything.  You can place all your fears, troubles, weaknesses and or anything that could go wrong in one’s life in that simple box.  Tick.  Oh what do I know, Philile thought out loud to herself, greater men than I have thought deeply about racism and all forms of oppression. They were still being quoted today as if nothing had changed;  Franz Fanon, Du bois, Amilcar Cabral, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Angela Davis,  Toni Morrison, Steven Bantu Biko, Thomas Sankara, Nina Simone, Kwameh Nkurumah, Patrice Lumumba, Samora Machel, Robert Mugabe even Nelson Mandela himself and thousands more who had written, thought and  spoken about race, racism, colonialism, capitalism, globalization.  Yet  black nations were still crawling.  They were still on their knees, praying, asking, and hoping for freedom to come.  Apartheid. Was it really the cause of all her misery in life? She asked herself as she walked back to her house which was next door to a private home for mentally and physically disabled children, in fact in had been the matrons home until they decided that some distance from the madness would be advisable and opened it up to the public for rent, it was affordable, close to work and a lucky find for Philile. The children’s screams were loud, and present all day and all night. She had become accustomed to the sounds the children made which ranged from wild frantic screams to deep moans, grunts and groans. She made for the bathroom and ran herself a bath, making sure to pour a generous amount of foam bath liquid.

Apartheid. Really? Get her a Kleenex

Hadn’t she, a reporter with the national radio station, received a good enough education in spite of it? She  thought as she turned on her  radio dial and listened as the newsreader announced the latest news. Had her parents not sent her to the best schools their money could offer? Had she not learnt about journalism at best place for the profession?  Wasn’t she a success? But why did they have to show this, this, this poverty. Why didn’t she know about it? Of course she had long-lost the right to know anything about Nana’s life. Even if it was a good story. But she felt her heart sink as she sunk into the warm water, she couldn’t get that picture of the kitchen out of her mind. This was her family. This was her home. But she wanted to hide it, sweep it under the carpet and pretend the whole thing never happened. But Oprah, Oprah Winfrey had opened Pandora’s Box. She giggled to herself.  Oprah was her favourite, she was everyone’s favourite in fact. Philile had read her biography in her early teens and hoped that one day she would also become as successful. The memory of afternoons spent watching Oprah were now projected on the white bubbles in soft foam that covered her hands and the length of her near naked body, she had the habit of bathing with her underwear on, it was the last thing she removed. Back then watching the Oprah show with her mother was the best part of Philile’s day, the highlight of her life in those days. She often dreamed of going back home and having jam and butter sandwiches with her mother and little brother Christian. Those unremarkable afternoons in Newcastle were a great comfort to her. She loved Christian who was then only a few months old, she made it her business to wash him, to make him milk. She thought of him as her friend, a silent understanding  friend who never judged her and was always happy to see her. She learnt how love felt like with Christian, even though she couldn’t explain it at the time that is how she learnt to love.  There were times she thought that  her mother physically resembled the image of Oprah, except that her mother of course was more beautiful. Both were incredible storytellers.  Philile admired Oprah, looked up to her because in many ways she saw her mother in Oprah. Philile’s mother was just as giving and  open to helping people. She often made other people’s problems her own.  But Oprah and Philile’s mother were separated by one crucial difference.   Oprah bared her life, her private struggles and pain to the world. Oprah cried often, every day in fact and made millions with her tears. Kleenex was making money from her show.  Instead of popcorn her audience received a box of tissues  and then some.  The Oprah show had become a free therapy session for a world full of hurting hearts.   Philile’s mother never cried. She was an extremely private person who kept the details of her daily struggles safely secured and sealed in invisible vaults. There were two big scary eyes which could stop anyone attempting to approach anywhere near the vicinity of those vaults.  Philile’s mother was also equally if not more protective of those she loved. She was more fearsome than a hungry lioness when the lives of those she loved were under threat.  So Philile’s love for her mother was one which vacillated from intense tender love and admiration to extreme debilitating fear. Now Oprah had gone and done it this time! Philile knew that her mother who didn’t read the papers would at least be spared the sight of her cherished home. But she, Philie couldn’t deny that she was from that decrepit, poverty-stricken house. And she wanted to hide it. Sweep it under and pretend it never happened. She wanted to build a new house.  She didn’t want to admit to anyone, that she was ashamed – embarrassed in front of the entire newsroom room to see her childhood home, her great-grand mother’s house, the house her mother grew up in h, displayed so unapologeticly for all to see. She was deeply ashamed of everything it represented the less said about it, the better. But there was a time when she had been proud to be there.

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I AM THIS PERSON: WHEN YOU ARE ENOUGH

“Only those who truly love and who are truly strong can sustain their lives as a dream. You dwell in your own enchantment. Life throws stones at you, but your love and your dream change those stones into the flowers of discovery. Even if you lose, or are defeated by things, your triumph will always be exemplary. And if no one knows it, then there are places that do. People like you enrich the dreams of the worlds, and it is dreams that create history. People like you are unknowing transformers of things, protected by your own fairy-tale, by love.”
― Ben Okri

Today’s  blog post is inspired by my three-year old niece who  has this ability to sneak up on me when I least expect it and say “I am following you Auntie Jedi”.  She doesn’t just say it, she literally follows my every step while watching my every move.

Her statement which she says from a place of innocence and playfulness spreads a smile across my heart and orders my steps in ways that no other  human being can. I have to think about where I’m going and what I’m going to do there and if that is a place I would like her to be in with me. It is a  huge and  humbling experience. But more than the responsibility that comes with it, it makes me joyful and  happy. In those private moments I have this insatiable desire to be a  better person because I know without a shadow of doubt that she’s following me for real.

It never seizes to amaze me how much power we have as individuals. The realization that I, myself and I  just by living my life, minding my own business have the power to influence someone else’ choices without my knowledge is astounding to me. It is incredibly humbling to realize that even then when it seems to you that you are alone, searching for clues on your own  in the dark, in reality you are not alone at all. There are eyes watching you. There is an audience which is listening, watching and following you whether you’re aware of it or not. But this is not an audience you choose, prefer, want or know about. It is an audience that chooses you. The audience  that decides that you are the person they want to follow and you have no control over it.  You can’t say don’t follow me or don’t look up to me. You can’t say, I am not worthy.

LIFE AS A RUBIK-CUBE

I am an 80’s child. And in the years after my birth the world was obsessed with a new game among many other inventions. Solving the Rubik’s Cube.  Even though it was an invention created  by a Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor in the early 70’s. I think  Rubik’s Cube is a perfect analogy for (my) life, because just when I think I got it, I have to start all over again. And it is only in understanding clearly where I have gone wrong, when and where or why I have made all the wrong moves.It is then that I can learn which moves I need to make to solve the  puzzle.

So it was during an unguarded moment  with my niece this afternoon when she said something which added another piece to the Jedi puzzle when she said, “Jedi, I’m not this person”  it is after she uttered these words over and over again that my squares started to align.

I’M NOT THIS PERSON

Is the key to who I am. In the past two weeks I have met with several old friends and had the opportunity to update them on my life so far. And while it has been a whirlwind adventure it has  also been an incredibly challenging time for me and with each disappointment, with each experiment I have found myself growing frustrated with the process. Wondering how many times I have to fail before I get it. The answer was with my niece. What I have been doing all along without knowing is an essential  process of elimination, and with each elimination I have come closer and closer to finding out what I am not actually. My adventures and experiments have helped me to peel off all the masks I’ve acquired over the years  and have gotten me to a place where I can look in the mirror and say. I am this person.

This person that I truly am is completely flawed in all the right ways.  When I  first took a look at her, all her mistakes  popped to the surface. They screamed at me. There’s something missing. You’re all wrong.  It’s not working. If your teeth were straight. If you’re hair was longer. If you’re nose was straighter. If you’re skin was baby smooth, caramel, coffee-coloured, dark chocolate, maybe. If your smile was more like this. If your hair was softer, if your voice was deeper, if your English was better, if your French was excellent, if you were more stable, if you didn’t give it up so easily… if.  Then everyone starts shouting all the my wrongs back at me.

You’re not what we’re looking for. You don’t have command. You’re too independent. You can’t follow instructions. How’s your maths? You don’t have confidence. You have potential but…  You want things the easy way. You don’t have the right  mindset. You like doing things your own way. You’re selfish, Self-absorbed. You don’t believe in yourself. Over and over. From all sides until I decided to turn the Rubix cube and discover the answers for myself.

The flaws were still there but  with each twist and focused attention on each problem I found that I could eliminate what I was not; a doormat, a slave, ignorant, selfish, inconsiderate, lazy or unmotivated.  While doing this I discovered other fun things about myself like the fact that I was playful, easygoing, open, sympathetic, forgiving and kind.

Then I started enjoying the twists and turns. That works, I have this skill, doing this like this makes me happy. Okay maybe this trait doesn’t work well here. But I could use it over there. Then I discovered that no one else but me is tasked with completing my puzzle, they can help me find clues, they can be my sounding board, they can walk some of the way with me, but the responsibility of completing my task is solely mine and mine only.

But the most surprising thing about discovering or exploring the real me is that all the character traits  I disliked most about myself, the quirky things which I could have changed already if it was possible are not only what makes me unique and different but they are exactly what I need to complete the puzzle.

So even though this person whom I have always wanted to be, the person I have given my all to be like, to emulate and imitate, is truly beautiful, truly intelligent, charming, sexy and everything I have ever dreamed of being as a woman and human being. Even though she is all wise, alluring, enigmatic,  insightful, oozing charm, even though she’s so deep I drown at the sight of her eyes. Even though I will admit that she is quite frankly a genius, a multi-talented can do most things with equal brilliance – type A person. Even though she has been my everything, even though I have tried everything I can to come just an inch of being half the  woman she is.

It gives me such a great pleasure to finally say in the most positive way possible that  ” I am not this person “- as wonderful and brilliant as she maybe, I am not her and that’s a huge relief. I don’t have to try to be her  or like her because only she can be who she is.

This person whom I have always looked up to and wanted to be all my life, this person who I have always wanted to impress,  will always be a part of me. But I don’t have to be her.  I can admire and love her for the brilliant one of a kind person that she truly is. But I’m not this person. And that is exactly  how it is supposed to be.

I am grateful to my niece for telling me who she is not,  because it  is only through this process that I could find out who I am. And the person that I am at this moment  is not so bad after all. She makes me laugh. And that’s enough.

ON THE CLOCK: THE FUTURE OF (SELFIE) JOURNALISM

I have been thinking about my chosen profession recently. In fact for the past 14 years. Each day I have asked myself if this is something I want or wish to do for the rest of my life. I have asked myself this question on every occasion I have returned from the heat of the field, still half listening to the interviews in my head, still getting accustomed to the characters in the play let alone sorting out the facts from the truth. I have asked myself this question while still trying to find the words to describe the mood, the cadences of ordinary scenes pregnant with nuances beyond logical description.  The scars in someone’s soul.  Hours after the interview(s) I would still be listening, trying to find the best way to include into my script all the silences between words in the interviews, to find the words that could describe feelings that were never expressed, thoughts that were never uttered, the hopes and fears that were caught somewhere in someone’s throat or which silently gathered behind brave round eyes or spilled over in a moment of weakness onto curled eyelashes and leaked without a sound on firm cheeks. Spreading across someone’s face in a distant smile.

I would still be thinking, wondering if there is a way to write about the sound of a silent tear drop, the weight behind each one, and how each tastes different to the other. Some are as light as mist while others heavy and thick like a pound of dead flesh, drop loudly on quivering cheeks like a thunderstorm. Other tears flow slowly as fluid as crimson lava from a raptured volcano etching pigments of memory on tired faces long after the eyes have dried up. Each tear contains a story. A story which seconds on the clock could never contain.  In order to write I tell myself, I can do it.  I close my eyes to the silent tick of the clock, each red dot marking a second, a minute, an hour before the show is over. I close my eyes and in the darkness tell myself that somehow I can do it. I can make them hear the sound of falling a tear drop.

The pressure is sometimes so strong I need a song that can help me silence the critic inside. I need music to initiate movement. To silence the white noise. In all honesty I cannot remember a day when I didn’t ask myself if this is truly what I have chosen to do with my life. Because in many ways I didn’t fully believe or accept that journalism and I are well suited.  The pressure to file a story every hour was both a wondrous thrill and a heavy burden. It was superb when the story pumped like the inaudible flow of blood in your veins, when you knew all the elements of the story as well as you know your own name, when you knew the subject inside-out, when it was a subject you believed in, when love took over and you found yourself floating on water like a surfer who has just caught the largest wave, the highest tide, flying. In those moments time would be irrelevant, in fact, when you reached the point of equilibrium between yourself and a story it felt as though time herself was bowing to you, waiting for you.  It stood as if in an eternal salute to a master creating a timeless experience balancing the past and future fully in the present moment.  Everything would be in sync, synergized and you would never ever want time to start its relentless drill again. Tick Tock. In fact you didn’t even think about it.  But those days and moments were rare, because you were not a specialist you had to learn a story from scratch every day, like cramming for an exam every single time you go to work.  Most days putting a story on air would be as hard and tedious as trying to squeeze milk from an old-cow whose udders have lost their youthful lustre.  In those moments time would always be against you, either too fast or too slow.  In my early days as a journalist, I  found myself quite perplexed, both at myself and the nature of what I was attempting to do every day,  to write down stories I was never told.  I would have to shut my eyes tight. Forget about time, write what was not said with varying degrees of success. At times I thought I put too much pressure on myself,  which is why at least once or twice a week, I would find myself  immobile unable to move, because I was still waiting to hear the splashing sound of  a falling tear drop as it hits the floor. It never has.

Today, I would like to believe that I can look at what I do with a certain level of professional dispassion.  Perhaps I am mature enough to capture a tear-drop and tell a timely story.

Technology is ever-changing the way we consume and understand news and current affairs. To a large extent, the tools we use, the technology itself has become news.  What makes the headlines today would probably have never made it onto a national news bulletin when I started working with words and silences over ten years ago. What would make headlines ten years ago, is not even considered news today.  Reporting/Journalism has never been as fast as it is today, it has never been so easy nor so convenient for any journalist, reporter or ordinary person with the right tools to break a story and make headlines.  There are a multiple ways in which stories can be told and often new reporters and journalists are expected to have an ability to use all of them with equal competence. From filing radio hard copy, voice reports from the field, capturing video footage,  taking photographs, getting the interviews, tweeting about it, posting (selfies) with news makers on Instagram, Facebook, liveblogs and podcasts while simultaneously conducting live television reports with a selfie stick for a camera operator. Then there are infographics, photo snacks and hashtags, meant to compress everything to 70 characters and 30 second videos.  Your value as journalist is embedded in your ability to do all these successfully, and by success we mean your tweets must go viral, your story must be shared by millions, reposted by a hundred thousand more, tagged, favoured, and retweeted, liked, by your followers around the world. That has become the bottom line. Any errors made we can apologize for later.

There’s no time to pause before we report what we see.   The story of the sound of a tear drop is out of sync with the times, it is old news. What  we are asking journalists to do today, is like asking someone who was trained as a  General Practitioner, to start doing brain surgery, be a  vet, an obstetrician , an ophthalmologist among other things all in the course of one day. Any self-respecting medical professional would refuse such an assignment not only because it is impractical but simply because such an assignment is a recipe for failure and the worst case scenario would result in one of the patients suffering from lack of attention and or expertise advice. Whatever the outcome we can all expect the results of this to be average at best.

While it sounds very impressive to say you can and have been able to do all of those things, it is ultimately not sustainable. Perhaps not so much for the corporation itself as it operates on the belief that it can just as easily “replace” you with someone younger and more eager to not only do all of the above, but to also run and build a website from scratch and do marketing and publicity while you’re still trying to figure out how Twitter works.  The question is not whether one person can  perform all those functions, it is whether doing so would be in the best interest of the profession and the bottom line.

I understand. I was trained in all the imaginable methods of reporting from what we called desk top publishing (DTP) at the time, to photojournalism, TV, radio journalism, online journalism. I’ve learnt how to edit words, moving and still pictures, design websites, edit documentaries, write scripts, shoot video footage, and produce essays, learn history, politics, and a few foreign languages in three years.  I know how it feels like to be turned into an octopus with suctions on every imaginable aspect of journalism, a jack of all trades but a master of none. It is wonderful to have a working knowledge of these tools of telling stories, but ultimately what matters most is the story. You can have the best and most technologically advanced story telling tools – but they will never tell a story like a human being can.

So in the past four years as freelance journalist I have seen how amazing it can be to be a one man show on the rare occasion that it works, and how devastating it can be when everything comes falling apart like a deck of cards. Because in the end we only have two hands, two eyes, two ears and two feet.

I have enjoyed working in solitude as a radio reporter for eight years. Yet nothing is sweeter and is more wonderful and fulfilling that embarking on a creative project with like-minded people. I have tasted the undeniable high of working with others. Nothing surpasses a High Five with another hand at the end of a long day.  No technology can replace another human being. The Technology we use is just a tool, it will never replace another human’s eye, another person’s perspective. It is a delicate balance between being independent, versatile and being unreasonably narcissistic.  An inanimate object, no matter how technologically advanced and innovative it is, can never replace a human mind heart or soul. And if one day we wake up and think  it does, then we will do so at our own peril.

The bottom line is,  life is better when we’re doing it two-gether.

COPING IN COPENHAGEN: 10 THINGS I DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT DENMARK

Before I tell you my list of ten things I didn’t know about  Denmark, indulge me as I tell you a little story. A story I was told by an old friend of mine over dinner during my recent visit to the Scandinavian country which boarders Sweden and Germany. The story concerns an erstwhile Danish-American chef who wanted to cook a traditional Danish dish it could have been dessert but I don’t remember exactly.  He searched the web for a recipe and found one written in the Danish language, which he duly translated into English. According to the recipe the dish required sweet milk (sød mælk) in Danish. So the American-Danish went and bought condensed milk and added it to the ingredients which resulted in a less that perfect dish. The Danish American soon found out that while sød mælk literally translated from Danish to English means sweet milk –   sød mælk in Danish actually means full cream milk.  Basically in the Danish language sweet-milk is not sweet-milk even if it is called sweet milk. So obviously I was curious about the etymology of the term or word, a curiosity which sparked a series of questions which led my friend to retort with some irritation that: ‘I didn’t invent the language’. So perhaps there is a reason for this perhaps there is no reason – but this particular story sums up my overall impression of Denmark.  But as with most things, places and circumstances in life things are often never what people say they are nor are they what they seem. So Denmark in this context is not in any way peculiar. So without wasting any more of your time… here are some fun facts about Denmark. Yes it’s an odd country.

1. THERE ARE MORE PIGS THAN HUMANS IN THE COUNTRY

Denmark produces approximately 28 million pigs a year, that’s five times the Danish population of 5.6 million people according to 2013 populations figures. The pigs are reared in around 5,000 pig farms, most pigs are slaughtered at the co-operative abattoirs Danish Crown and Tican. In addition, a substantial number of live piglets are exported, mainly to Germany. Exports of pig meat account for almost half of all agricultural exports and for more than 5 percent of Denmark’s total exports.

2 .  FOREPLAY IS KEY TO THE FLOURISHING PIG INDUSTRY

I’m sure you’re wondering how it is that Denmark’s pig population is larger that the human population, the reason is quite simple. Researchers found that if  female pigs are aroused before insemination they are likely to become more fertile or produce more piglets.  So farm workers are tasked with performing professional foreplay on the animals before they are inseminated to increase fertility rates. You can check out the actual video here to see how it’s done.

3. ANIMAL BROTHELS ARE A POPULAR TOURIST DESTINATION

Laws in both Denmark and Norway are fairly open when it comes to a person’s legal right to engage in sexual activity with an animal. The law states that doing so is perfectly legal, so long as the animal involved does not suffer. According to the Danish newspaper 24timer, this interesting gap in the law has led to a flourishing business in which people pay in order to have sex with animals. On the internet, several Danish animal owners openly advertise their services. The newspaper contacted several such individuals and was told that many of the animals have been engaged in this kind of activity for several years and that the animals crave the sexual stimulation. The newspaper found that the cost charged by the animal owners varied from DKK 500 to 1,000 (USD$85 to $170).

4.    AT HEART DENMARK IS A GREEN COUNTRY

Denmark is well-known the world over for its progressive environmental policies and sustainable living. From cycling to work and recycling but within Denmark’s Capital City Copenhagen, there’s a different kind of green living. In Christiania, Copenhagens’ worst kept secret, is a free green zone. Meaning once you enter, you can buy and smoke  weed, marijuana, or cannabis, freely without fear.  You only have to obey three rules: Take No pictures, Don’t Run and just have fun.  It’s a fascinating place. My friends took me there one night at my request. It was as if I was walking into a western-cowboy movie set, without the image of the bumble weed floating aimlessly against the piercing hot sun. The lighting was dim and the walls were illuminated with green lights which made the place suddenly feel like a ghost town. Being winter there were braziers lighting the way to the main eating areas.Vendors sold their product behind camouflaged tents which looked like set-dressing from horror or  ghost movies. Everyone spoke in hushed tones and whispers, no loud music could be heard. Only  the faint sound of money exchanging hands and the thick scent of purple haze which danced around nostrils on pusher street. Christiania had a distinctly illicit lane feel about it, far from the breakfast at Tiffiney’s boutique or the silicone valley  image I often associated with the free or ‘legal’ consumption of weed. It’s a place for hippies, for stoners, it’s off the grid, or rather it is an autonomous town because by  law it’s allowed to exist. Police conduct  raids once in while but it’s not frequent. The last time they tried to close down Christiania, drug peddlers  scattered around the city, increasing crime rates in an otherwise peaceful city, creating choas in a well ordered environment. So authorities changed their minds. This way it’s all under control. Everyone knows everyone. It’s ‘crime’ but it’s organized so for the most part it’s fine. Everyone raises their  eyebrows in shock at the sound of the word Christiania. Most people would rather pretend it didn’t exist. Everyone has a relative like that.

5. DEMOCRACY WORKS IN DENMARK

Not far from Christiania is the country’s parliament, the Christiansborg Palace –  the only building in the world to house  three of the countries executive pillars of government. The country is proud of its democracy, because as residents like to say, Democracy works in Denmark. I imagined it would work but what I didn’t know was that until recently the Danish parliament was the only parliament in the world to offer free access to the public. You can still walk through the building but since the cartoon incident – Denmark has earned the wrath of the Arab-Muslim world which has necessitated screening for those wishing to attend parliamentary proceedings. There are sporadic bomb threats in the city every now and then.

6. CHRISTMAS IS NOT CHRISTMAS WITHOUT SNOW.

‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” is a song almost every Dane sang even though they didn’t know the words or had never heard the song before – because Christmas is not Christmas without snow fall.  I was quite surprised when people openly expressed disappointment at the warm temperatures  (+5 degrees Celsius). Many lamented  at the possibility of not having snow in the winter. It is beautiful, pretty and everyone looks forward to a white Christmas every year. People were downright depressed that they would not after–all have a white Christmas. Apparently when it snows it’s not so cold. Anyway it made no difference to me. The air was always fresh and  crisp. There’s a euphemism for everything.

  1.  YOU CAN PARK YOUR BABY OUTSIDE WHILE YOU SHOP

I forgot about the chills beneath my feet when I noticed that parents  routinely parked their baby strollers and prams outside in order to go shopping. Perhaps there is nothing strange about that, except that they left their babies in the prams/strollers outside while they continued to shop inside. No one seemed to worry that their children would disappear or get cold, because no one steals  in Denmark. Children learn to live with the cold at a very young age. It took me a while to get used to seeing that. I had wow moments each time. possibly the coolest thing about Copenhagen if you love shopping.  You don’t  need  a baby sitter!

8. FOLK HIGH SCHOOLS ARE  COOL

There are  approx. 70 folk high schools spread across the country, most of them are situated in rural areas or smaller towns, and they are typically named after the local district. In the early 1800’s, thoughts of enlightenment in Denmark were peaking and the tradition of national romanticism were  developing. Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783 -1872) was deeply inspired of these thoughts, and after personal experience from the Trinity College in England, he developed the concept of the folk high school. Grundtvig identified a growing democratic need in society – a need of enlightening the often both uneducated and poor peasantry. This social group had neither the time nor the money to enroll at a university and needed an alternative. The aim of the folk high school was to help people qualify as active and engaged members of society, to give them a movement and the means  to change the political situation from below and be a place to meet across social boarders. Key feature of folk high schools is the fact that there are not exams or age restrictions with two or three exceptions to the rule. Some schools are specialized ( film, music or sports) while others are more general and any community can start a folk high school which is funded and or subsidized by the state.

9   THERE ARE HOLIDAY TAX RETURNS

Though Denmark maybe one of the richest countries in the world its citizens are heavily taxed  in order for the government to provide social services such as free health care and education among a host of other benefits for its citizens. But what surprised me most is that there is a holiday tax too. Government deducts a certain amount from your salary every months and then refunds it when  you go on leave or holiday.  Many Danes use the money to travel the world; having a Christmas office party at a Michelin star hotel in Italy over the weekend is not unheard of. It’s par for the course.

  1. IT’S BASICALLY THE LAND OF FAIRY TALES

Fairy-tales have a huge following  in Denmark, especially those produced by Walt Disney and they feature prominently in people’s TV screens around Christmas time.  The Danish National broadcaster screens  a series of Walt Disney Movies and the latest animation film for that year-  it is now par of the Danish tradition . The fairy tale is topped on Christmas eve when families join hands and dance around the Christmas tree while singing Christmas carols. Christmas would not be Christmas without singing and dancing around the Christmas tree. Most adults acknowledge that it’s a strange practice – but they do it anyway, wherever they may be around the world because it is their heritage after all.

WAAW! A CULTURAL SHOCK

In conclusion these are ten things I didn’t know about Denmark until I went there.  But the most interesting thing of all, the most heart-breaking thing I didn’t know  did not make it on the list, simply because  the headline says 10 things I didn’t know not 11. Another reason is because technically speaking the 11th thing is not a Danish thing necessarily.

IT’S JUST  ANOTHER BUS SCENE

Picture it.  My friend and I caught a bus on a sight-seeing  trip around the city. We sit opposite a man who immediately looked to me like a West African, because he was  very tall, very thin and  very dark. He was speaking loudly on his mobile phone. A white old woman sat next to him looking quite distressed by his loudness. I listened to the conversation and discovered that the man was speaking  a mixture of Wolof and French, which led me to assume that he might be on a long distance call to Senegal.   My friend and I were thoroughly amused by the scene as the man seemed quite oblivious to the discomfort he was causing around him. Soon the old woman  moved seats as soon as one was available, and this seemed to free-up the mans’ lungs. He spoke with free abandon with no one sitting next to him, laughing and saying sweet nothings between exclamations of waaw! Wolof for yes! my friend and I laughed and I was secretly  glad  and  pleasantly surprised in fact to hear someone speak Wolof in Denmark,  I mean what were the odds? He reminded me of home. It’s been two long years since I last heard those words.  Soon another black-African passenger who was sitting at the back of the bus  approached the man and told him to keep quiet, to keep it down as he was disturbing the peace in the bus. The man went silent, as if he had been shot with a silencer. And even though he continued on the phone  his hello? hallo? waaw… had become lifeless. For the first time he looked around the bus and our eyes met briefly, I quickly looked down in mutual embarrassment because I had never seen the face of a man seconds after being stripped of his voice. ‘ That’s a first’ my friend commented ‘ seeing another African tell a fellow African to keep it down, not embarrass us in public’.  It was an ordinary day, in an ordinary bus, no big deal. But for some insignificant reason, in an insignificant moment my heart broke. For some reason, I think a man died that day.

Godt Nytår! That’s Danish for Happy New Year!

PROF ALI MAZRUI: A MEASURE OF GREATNESS

This weeks’ post is in honour of the late Professor Ali Mazrui.  In another time I would have been ashamed to publicly admit that I did not know about this towering intellectual until his death this week. He was 81. Today I don’t mind acknowledging my ignorance because today I am wise enough to know without a shadow of doubt that I don’t know (everything) and that each day brings with it limitless  opportunity to learn.

IN MY FATHER’S FOOTSTEPS: PUTTING THE BREAKS ON EXPLOITATION

Let me first start with a personal example: Last night my father taught me that brake fluid has two uses in a car. First for the brakes which is self-explanatory and that second it is also used for the clutch. He said “come” to the garage, opened the bonnet of my mother’s car and showed us where to put the fluid for the different mechanisms. The hand brake light in my mother’s Toyota Corolla had been flashing for several days, the brakes worked fine but the light continued to flash so my mother ( being the wise woman who knows she doesn’t know about cars) asked my father who did know a whole lot about cars and how they worked. “So what do you think is the problem?  It was the first time in a long time that my father, who has been working with all kinds of engines and parts for the past 30 years or more, invited us into his world. He then explained that brake fluid is used to lubricate both the breaks and the clutch showed us the different containers.  He also explained how the signal worked, there was a sensor on the lid which monitored levels of brake-fluid and when it was below the line, caused the break-light to turn on.

I used to my marvel at my father who spoke a language I couldn’t decode. He would explain over the phone to his colleagues how to dismantle the engines caterpillar machines, and put them together again, as if he was standing right in front of them. I was always impressed by his descriptive  knowledge of each part and where it was supposed to go from memory. I admired his tone and even handedness when he explained each stage of the process without patronizing the other person.  He hardly ever raised his voice or shouted and he always asked questions in order to understand what went wrong. Moreover he always seemed to have a solution for every conceivable problem the other person at the end of the line came up with and when he didn’t know he’d say “let’s leave it for now and see what to do tomorrow”.

I admired him and still do but because of my inherently independent nature I never went to him for advice when I found myself in sticky situations. I thought the best way to impress my father would be to learn to do things and manage my life all by myself instead of asking him for help or seeking wisdom from him.  But last  night I saw how eager he was to share his knowledge with us, how happy he was to see us willing to learn  from  his vast  know how (skills)  of cars and machines. Only then did it dawn on me that the best thing I could have done in times of trouble or uncertainty or whatever hard decision I was facing was not to try to prove to him I could do it by myself. The best way to impress him would have been to do the exact opposite, to go to him and ask for his advice, opinion and counsel.  After all he is a man who deals with solving problems every day. I realized that my father would have been more impressed by a daughter who knew that she didn’t know (everything) and was willing to draw on the wisdom of those who loved her and who wanted to see her succeed. I realized that he would have been so happy to hear me say “Dad I don’t know how to do this, can you help me? What do you think?” Instead of me trying to do it all by myself and falling and hurting myself in the process as if he wasn’t there or willing to help me. Even if it was just to listen, which he does wonderfully.

I realized that admitting you don’t know and seeking the council of those wiser and more knowledgeable than you is probably the most intelligent thing I could do for myself. I realized that intelligence or wisdom is not measured by knowing or pretending to know everything, but intelligence is about being open to not knowing and then committing to learning every day and applying that knowledge to real life situations. It is only by knowing that you don’t know that you can learn new information – because essentially, even if we get to a point in life when we think we know a lot about something  – we still don’t know everything.  And it is precisely this arrogance and belief that we know better than everyone else who has been here before us which is responsible in large part for the failed states and or downfall of Independent Africa for hundreds of years – a subject which Prof Mazrui dedicated a large part of his academic scholarship to.

THE DUAL MANDATE: NEW FORMS OF SLAVERY

After I discovered the passing this towering legend through a wise friend of mine on Facebook. I spent the whole week listening to his teachings. I realized that I had been searching for a teacher like Dr Ali Mazrui’s who was essentially a romantic like me, but understood the roots and anatomy of  Africa’s present day challenges without being frivolous, superficial or reactionary about solutions to those problems. I was drawn largely by his calm, clear and balanced authority which spoke of wisdom beyond my own years and a mind seeped in the excavation of knowledge. He was a man who had learned how to listen and I could hear it from the way he spoke. In  short, when I watched a video clip posted by my friend, I realized that I had finally found my mentor.  I sat at his “feet” and listened as he decoded the illusion of African Independence, in a way that was fresh and empowering.  And rings ever so loudly true for  Africa today than ever before.  Instead of telling you about him I thought the best way to honour him would be to let him tell you the story of Africa. So I spent time transcribing part of his documentary – Tools of Exploitation in Africa – which is the best analysis, explanation and account of the current challenges facing the continent today.  You can find the complete version in the video on youtube or click the title below to watch it.  I hope you will be inspired as I have been to continue where Prof Mazrui, who published more than 30 books and articles and was written about and published in 50 others – left off. “To whom much is given much is given, much is required”.

TOOLS OF EXPLOITATION IN AFRICA – BY PROF ALI MAZRUI

“Many centuries ago man in this part of Africa went into partnership with termites to process copper. The  Balunda, the Baluba,  the Basanga of ancient Zaire ( Democratic Republic of the Congo) used the clay produced by termites to  help smelt copper and produce implements of agriculture, weapons of war sometimes decorations and money for exchange. A long, long time ago, a strange partnership… and then the Europeans came. Did they want to learn from the technology they found here? Oh no! At least the Baluba and the Balunda had consulted the technology of the termites and benefited from it. But European technology was more arrogant more self-confident and less compromising. It abolished the old technological order and in its wake it left new forms of desolation in Africa.”

“Yes the West arrived in Africa with a bang. The soil recoiled in a whimper. Britain’s colonial policy Policy maker lord Lugard argued that Europe had a double mission in Africa. One was to develop Africa’s resources for Africa’s own benefit. The other was to use those resources to meet the growing industrial requirements of the western world. Lugard called these two goals the Dual Mandate. Our story is about this dual mandate. This intended partnership between Africa and the west and how far it’s been fulfilled.”

THE DUAL MANDATE

“Europe’s’ new technology has descended upon Africa in search of the continents virgin wealth. The African landscape will never be the same again. And so they dig up Africa faster than they have ever done before. And yet it’s one of the cruel ironies of the world economy that a continent so rich in natural resources should at the same time be so poor in living standards. The factories the furnaces of the world are clamouring for African manganese, African copper, chromium, platinum you name it Africa produces it. The romantics amongst us would prefer to think of Africa as God’s treasure chest of diamonds, after all we produce more diamonds than anybody else, we like to think of Africa as a golden continent, we produce more gold than anybody else.  And yet the same rich continent, this vast Treasure Island is inhabited by poverty-stricken inhabitants. Why? Something has gone wrong, tragically wrong in the partnership between western technology and African resources. And yet the digging continues: Dig, Dig, Dig, is it for wealth? Or is it the collective burial of a people”

A FACADE

“Some would argue that the west had brought development to Africa. Perhaps by the Dual Mandate, Lord Lurgard meant an exchange of African resources for Western technology. A new civilization on wheels is now vibrating along African streets, from Dar es Salaam to Dakar. In all my travels in five different continents. I still continue to be astonished by the great variety of African skylines, every African city is a miracle of transition. The mixture is between the foreign and the indigenous, the old and the new, the natural and the artificial. But much of it is a mirage and half of it is a façade.   In Africa the glittering goods are more a symbol of imported consumption than of genuine local prosperity. We in Africa are buying goods from other nations rather than making them ourselves.  The West has given African only the shimmering illusion of technological know-how in exchange for the solid substance of Africa’s resources. In what continent am I? Africa or Europe if I am confused it’s because it’s all a façade, a façade of a western style skyline behind which lies a very different story. Westernization without real modernization Appearances reminiscent of the West behind which lie the realities of Africa. What have we got to show here in Africa, for 300 years of contact with Western technology?  We have acquired western tastes, but have we the skills to make them work?”

HUMANS FOR GUNS

“More  sad than the death of Kings is the death of ancient skills surrounding them.  Once upon a time African Kings and Chiefs were patrons to great artists and craftsmen. Civilizations in gold and bronze were maturing. Techniques had been evolving since the 12th century.  The most famous African sculpture is from Ife and Benin in West Africa. Some outsiders scoffed claiming that the bronzes came from the lost continent of Atlantis. By the time the Portuguese arrived the art had become so realistic that it portrayed the visitors in remarkable detail.   But the Portuguese and other Europeans hadn’t come to admire African skill, their eyes were on a new and fearsome trade, not in African products but in the very African producers themselves.

Slavery was not simply a denial of freedom for those Africans actually captured, it was also a denial of development for the continent they left behind. Europe not only refused to develop Africa, it savagely disrupted skills already in the making. The most symbolic western institution in Africa at the time, was the fortress. An impregnable trading factory, the factory’s merchandise human beings.  The slave trade rapidly transformed Africans into the most humiliated race in human history. Within two centuries alone over  12 million Africans were exported to the new world, the Americas.  It is estimated that for every slave who reached the America market, another died in transit.

Those who survived proved to be more durable than the Indians or Poor whites. Ironically the African Slave trade persistent partly because Africans were so tough.”

Africa had exported to the west men and women, potential implements of production. Africa had imported from the west, guns – by definition instruments of destruction. Indeed the slave trade and the gun trade were interlocked, in some cases guns were the currency with which slaves were bought. Slaves in exchange for guns. Africa had helped to enhance the industrial revolution of the west through those very slaves sent by force there. And yet the guns out here initiate a whole new culture of violence. That culture of violence extends right into present day Africa”