LETTER I


shredded-banksy-painting

Dear Gega,

Everything seems beautiful today. For no particular reason at all. I must sound mad. As mad as all the lovers who have this annoying need to find some allegorical beauty in this world symbolic of their ‘unending love’. But honestly I do feel like reciting that e.e. cumming poem. Not that one.

i thank you God for most this amazing day. for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and the blue true dream of sky. and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes.

I know this was his style device but couldn’t the man start a sentence with a capital letter for decency’s sake?

Back to the beauty of the day and my madness.

Did you hear about Jamal Khashoggi? A terrible bit of business. It occurs to me that a consulate and perhaps the Papal City are the best places to commit a murder. The inviolability…police cannot enter, at least not without invitation. I saw in that movie ‘Operation Finale’ that the Vatican helped smuggle Nazis out of Germany after the Allies had won.

And I wonder if all this conjecture about climate change is real. That by 2040 we might be having front row seats to our very own geo-storms. It’s the children I worry about the most. With any luck you and I will be dead in our grave well before then. This reminds me of another poem. Nazim Hikmet this time, ‘On Living’. He remarks that people enjoy talk of the future and outcomes of wars which might last years even when they know they might be dead on the very first day of the first offensive.

The East is on an imperialistic march and possibly, quite probably our continent shall be ravaged and turned in on itself. The West has lost its sure footing in the world, it stumbles like a drunk giant. Is there anything sadder or more dangerous, my love? But why do we weep over regime change? This thing called destiny is rarely in mortal hands. Perhaps there will be a nuclear war and that will be the end of worrying.

And the current state of the country? Another referendum will surely be the death of us. We sure know how to pick them…but it was your hand that voted them in. I have a picture of your ink-stained pinky to prove it. There was so much anxiety then, do you remember? It was palpable…that tense knotting in the country’s belly. And it passed. So I’m quite sure the current schizophrenic climate will dissipate. Even that slow creeping right-wingism in the world’s politics. I just don’t know what it will leave behind. But there’s always the United States now to give us a bit of schadenfreude. They’re just like us, aren’t they…maybe even a cheaper imitation. I couldn’t even finish that Kanye West-Trump encounter. Not enough faces, not enough palms.

Why am I writing you a letter…soon to be a series of letters? Many reasons. For one, it’s a beautiful art that I’m sad has died to my generation. Even the occasional unbuttoned up e-mail is frowned upon. Emotion is frowned upon, I feel. God forbid the whole spectrum isn’t expressed in 140 characters or less. Besides, I have loved thinking with you. You colour my thoughts so variably.

Because, though you see our same sun, I wonder if the birds are chirping where you are. I write you because the world is spinning madly on, tearing at itself in these silly never-ending wars and only through our thoughts can we get back to each other. There’s a greater war and I know now what it is for. You have taught me  and shown me that. Inviolability.

Because I don’t want to check the weather where you are. I know you have to be where you are and I have to be where I am…in this crazy parallelism of our existence. But I don’t think I’m too late. I know this pain feels familiar, like the pain of unbecoming and unmaking but it’s not the same. I think this the pain of resurrection. The pain of another beautiful day after a tempest. It’s unbearable, isnt it?

P.S. I’ve just recently got acquainted with the sound of Tom Leeb. I feel your country-lover heart may fall hopelessly in love with him.

Expect more letters.

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MY WINDOWS ACHE


Windows ache

 

‘The human condition is always about greater truths but we’re not ever going to know the full facts.’ Is that why we tell people our secrets. To let them walk as close to our truths as much as they possibly can. To be seen. To be seen deeply. Is that why we sell those pieces of ourselves. Those bits of us that are and are not pain or need or loss.

I’m listening to Phoebe Bridgers’ ‘Smoke Signal’ as I write this. There’s a line ‘one of your eyes is always half shut, something happened to when you were a kid. I didn’t know you then and I will never understand why it feels like I did…you must have been looking for me.’

Secret. From Latin secretus meaning to set apart. Etymology aside, I’m interested in them. The dark hidden things. Robert Johnson writes in Owning your Own Shadow that there is in each of us three of us. A persona, representative of how we wish to be and be perceived. An ego, what we consciously know we are and a shadow, the unknown regions of ourselves. So which of our three keeps our souls and secrets.

Are you looking still? What are my secrets, you wonder.

There are the trivial ones. I always stole food from my grandfather’s house to feed the chickens though it angered the utilitarian in him to see such waste. He shouted at me with that military man’s voice and I always cried. Always. But I never stopped. It was the first time it occurred to me that I was stubborn.

In class eight, Mr. Mose declared that I had to name a noise maker. I refused and Bryan got the brunt of it. It was made clear that I had to watch all twenty painful strokes.

I didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral because I didn’t want to remember her dead. I kept smelling her perfume on strangers at the ferry and following them. She was taken in the night so I feel a special duty to keep vigil at nights during family illnesses. I should have been more awake then. There is no closure from some things. Some things just always go on inside you in some way.

While rafting in Sagana, I got pulled under by rapids. In panic I held on to the nearest person I could reach. I could have drowned her but I couldn’t let go. There’s no selfless in fear. Only that same taste of metal I had as a child when I was asked to hold a grown chick in my hands.  Held it with the same tight fearful grip that killed it. I still feel the same impotent shame at both memories.

I wonder if you’re still looking…because the song hasn’t stopped playing in the background.

I went out looking for a girl with the campus guard at the hostels in Parklands on a Friday night in third year. She’d been assaulted and could not be traced. It seemed like the thing to do on that Friday night. Looking back across the seven years, I know that if it had been a girl I would have named her Pandora… ‘the all-gifted’. Because nobody says how when all the evils of Pandora’s Box escaped, Hope remained. Hope remains. And I would have wanted another me out there looking for Pandora on the Friday nights when the devil is loosed.

I never voted so I share substandard think pieces online. Where else can we buy certainty but from anonymous political commentators.

Are you still looking for me?

I think we’re all broken, me more than most. I think we’re all winging it. But I think there’s still forgiveness. I think there is need and want and hunger. But sometimes the loneliness feels familiar than your looking. It feels easier to be alone though I know it takes less courage to be loved. Less of everything.

I was never kind to myself. It was more important, after a life time spent between and inside books, to analyse than to feel. This is a kind of cruelty. And I wonder if those around me felt the burden of that cruelty. Its aftershocks. And I wonder if that’s why you eventually stopped looking for me.

The Earth Turned to Bring Us Closer

   by Eugenio Montejo – translated by Peter Boyle

    The earth turned to bring us closer,

   it spun on itself and within us,

   and finally joined us together in this dream

   as written in the Symposium.

   Nights passed by, snowfalls and solstices;

   time passed in minutes and millennia.

   An ox cart that was on its way to Nineveh

   arrived in Nebraska.

   A rooster was singing some distance from the world,

   in one of the thousand pre-lives of our fathers.

   The earth was spinning with its music

   carrying us on board;

   it didn’t stop turning a single moment

   as if so much love, so much that’s miraculous

   was only an adagio written long ago

   in the Symposium’s score.

 

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A letter to my dead grandmother


Grandmother, I got my heart broken tonight…like you did once. It feels hollow inside my chest…I can barely hear the beat of it. My somebody is gone and I am faceless again…untouched and indistinguishable from the others.

“No one worth possessing can quite be possessed.” Nazim Hikmet is my prophet tonight. Neruda shrugging off sadly in the distance, home sick still. The Brownings, Borges, Shakespeare…all the poetry in world could not put out this fire.

How long had I been reading poems before I met him, grandmother? How long had I been that shy wounded girl of prose before I met him. One less poem perhaps and I would have been the perfect woman for him.

And he? Who is he? There’s a scar below his chin where his beard doesn’t grow. Some youthful gallant mischief over a pretty girl, no doubt. You have to be rested on his chest, hearing his heart to see it. Grandmother, I don’t think I can live without that scar.

We were together like an embrace of brokenness. We were the beautiful weeds of Vladimir Nabokov’s story…the beautiful ones that could not hide from the farmer. Did I not tell you my love how the monster of my childhood cut so deeply that child I no longer remember being? I should have told you more perhaps. And did you not walk into my home and my life haunted by the blue of those curtains?

The mosquitos that night that wouldn’t let him rest….or I, disturbed by his restlessness. As if we had been one skin. The half of me that is already his disturbed by his discomfort and the half him that I claim, similarly afflicted. That is the poetry of us, grandmother. More than either of us knew.

And he is gone. And you and the angels know how much I love him. Heaven knows how much. How can I love him so much and how can he not stay?

Don’t worry grandmother, there shall be no tears this time. I’m writing to tell you that I have had the chance to be cleaned up by love, to be uplifted by it, to hold hands with it under the table and walk in the dark with it. I went back with love to the parts of me that hurt so much I hadn’t looked in years, and love kissed those places…kissed me, full on the lips! And it tasted just like I had hoped it would taste…like all the poems I had ever read.

For pinky…to all the secret jigs

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WRITING WOMEN


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What do women think about, lying beside you in bed, staring at the ceiling? Secret dalliances…petty jealousies. And dreams. Is this what makes them so interesting? The secret lives of women.

Women are always dreaming, always thinking…chained to the kitchens, hearths and custom. We’re always flying with the birds. At least I always was.  We swallow routine while men go off searching for adventure.  Men give us their dreams, we carry them in our wombs. We keep everything alive.

And we are a bitter lot.

You refused to take me to school so I could be a doctor, one day you’ll fall sick.”- An Afghani girl.

All the years spent in rooms, and as is a woman’s nature, carrying every memory of every room.

  1. Hours spent in a room

How a man rushes up the stairs to the room. I’m so excited, he says…I can’t believe you chose me. Zipper quickly undone.  The sensation of cold fingertips on your skin. The kissing, the loving, the way the city sounds creep into the room. The way he breathes asleep as if he’s not even there. The things he says and the way he says them. Hours of madness in the blunt wordless language of the senses. The ancient cure. The distance between two naked bodies in a room, emphasized by white sheets with pink border. What a demon desire is, and you see it possess another person. It passes through contact and he touches you. And you see the shapes that your intertwined bodies cast on the room’s walls. How violently greedy the soul is when the body is so exposed. It engulfs everything…the bravado of conquest, the certainty of possession and the emptiness of you, the emptiness of a well.

It rains gently outside and something sprouts in you. A whole Garden of Eden starts in your womb, there where your invisible children play. Honey hours, honey days. Weaver bird nervousness. Weave bird fluttering. How angels fall…

And the morning after the war, a city sacked, ruined but triumphant despite love’s reek. The imprint of his hands on your back dripping like liquid sin. This way, he says and something in you wants to run. Run into the rain and streets and sounds and into the world. But…you realize how futile. You’re a woman.  You always carry the room. Everything…the noise in the streets, the indecent animal smell of love, and always when it rains…everything is a key into the room. You’re a prisoner.

  1. Mrs. Okuthe Reading (prelude to a play)

Mrs. Okuthe has decided that if it must happen, it must happen on a Friday, and an afternoon. There was something so terribly happening about a Friday afternoon in Nairobi and she wanted for once to be a part of it all. It would, she thought, be a way to tell a story.

Mrs. Okuthe has decided to cook lunch for herself. Though the children wouldn’t be back from school in time for lunch she would still cook. It would be, she thought somewhat bemused, so unnatural to do something for herself. She had even fallen out of the habit of even praying for herself.

She caught pieces of her reflection on the cutlery. She had been no great beauty Mrs. Okuthe, at best she was non-descript. She had always known this with a gentle anger. And often wondered if she would have occupied a different station had nature blessed her with beauty. At present, she was a housewife.

No, Mrs. Okuthe was no great beauty. What she was something far more valuable. She was an interesting woman with extremely perky thoughts whose charms were completely lost on her spousal unit, as with most marriages in Kenya. Mrs. Okuthe is what you would call a dreamer. On most days she is by the window staring out into the world, wanting more, sewing buttons to shirts, darning socks…wanting more. Wishing to have her life over, sure she can do it all better…get it so right.

Mrs. Okuthe is a woman so rabidly alone that on some days she goes out into the world to feel the way strange hands graze hers. A woman so rabidly unsexed that she has completely forgotten what her body is for. Good touches and bad touches are all the same to her.

Mrs. Okuthe is pregnant, her sixth child in as many years. Mr. Okuthe likes her occupied. She has wasted away ironing shirts and making tea. Mr. Okuthe doesn’t even know how she likes her tea…which is not at all. He had bought her cheaply for two bulls and one thousand three hundred and fifty seven shillings in a ceremony that barely lasted an hour and so she hadn’t expected a fairytale.

Her time is thus divided between Mr. Okuthe and his children. Yes his children. There is nothing of her in them. She was never consulted when they were made. And they always tore her books.

She might have had friends Mrs. Okuthe, only she is a clenched soul and so empty. So very empty. Besides she likes reading, Mrs. Okuthe, a habit which her neighbours think odd and suspicious but respect anyway. It is a habit Mr. Okuthe detests in her. And often, he writes his displeasure all over her face. The height of Mrs. Okuthe’s romanticism is the earnest longing for a man who doesn’t beat her.

Now to the how. Murder had always seemed to Mrs. Okuthe to be the greatest enterprise. The expending of hours of thought on the efficiency of the means, the inner turmoil. But she felt none of the struggle. It seemed so natural to her to want to kill her husband that it must have been the only consideration she allowed herself for him.

Mrs. Okuthe: (As if in agony) Let me speak! Let me tell it all…it’s my story

Women.

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WHY ART: Fifteen Paces


Why art? Because art matters. It’s not a biological hunger or a metaphysical need like sex and religion but art matters. Matters because it’s true…is the truth. Is a symbol of every human endeavour. Matters as one of the simplest and most economical ways to prove that one has a soul, and is human.

Art is we are real life objects encased in fragility. It’s the flicker of appreciation in a man’s eyes at the sight of a beautiful woman but something…something more. Something higher.

Why art? Because we’re here so briefly…so briefly and we love it so, and when it all gone who will know how much you loved it?

Why art? Because there’s a boy of course, and I rush to school every morning to get to class…to get to him. To sit in the fifth row from the entrance because that’s where fifteen paces across from me I think, the rays that elude the blinds at near noon catch his skin just so…just so. Not a word between us but he is the most real thing in my life. Art is the distance between us. Art is fifteen paces.

I choose art everyday because art is spice, and the opposite of death. Because not to choose it would be to live at the mercy of a need.  Art matters because we forget it more. In the mad dash to live we forget what being alive means.  And art is alive and breathing.

Art matters because it involves looking, and looking leads to seeing, and seeing means understanding. Just by standing in front of a canvas, you’ve gone through an experience. And art knocks in my inner places, my dark crevices. Art matters because I was here, I lived and in a way that matters.

Art matters because not everything is blunt intelligence, because cleverness is foolish, because sensibility craftiness and wit and words are a little to much sometimes or not enough.

ART MATTERS.

 

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My kingdom, my kingdom….


“Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.” Stevensonian wisdom. I agree with the first half of this statement, and I have proof of second.  I spent my whole life reading about how the world was, how it could be and when I finally took a step out into the world…it was bad fiction, horribly scripted and cheaply produced. And there seemed to be no place in it for me.

My father gave me my first book. It was titled Kenna, after its eponymous hero, a boy in Gaborone who ran a race and won. I know because I met him at the finish line.  Sleepy as it seems… it was the beginning. After that it was The Drummer Boy then it was For Mbatha and Rebecca my first Kenyan love story. Pacesetters, the fear street series, the Hardy boys, Nancy Drew… I watched my adolescence fly by feeling blazé because it seemed such a late entrant, and filled me with a sense of déjà vu. I had lived my whole life in books. In his 1971 Nobel acceptance speech, Neruda said: “We {writers} are called upon to fill with words the confines of a mute continent, and we become drunk with the task of naming and telling.” It is the foremost task of books. To name us and to tell us.

Books saved me. Saved me from the noise of unhappy parents in the next room. From the quiet within myself. Books sought me out, questioned me, and mocked me, asked me to stand. Gave me the world within their musty pages, gave me something of themselves, gave me my dreams. Books saved me. By letting me run away without alerting the mean gatekeepers.  Books taught me how beautiful the world was, how fragile and dark. They explained to me that I had a place in the world, if I could keep it. In books my heart would quiver but not break, they reminded me of the aches and kissed my scars. Books were my sandbox of insane passions.  Inside them I was wanton, I was la femme insensee, and they made me respect rules, gave me principles and taught me when to cede them…never. The book was my eternal playmate.  I was always safe with a book.

Also, books change me. Their words define me, breathe new life into me. I meet the most interesting people in books. Soldiers with soft hearts, world savvy wise-guys, rambunctious children. I could be a happy voyeur through books. I could stand outside people’s windows, look into their lives. In books, I could reject reality, substitute it… the quintessential escapism. Reading is one of the things in which I can completely lose myself. Books embolden me. I’m less nervous with a book around. In a bank lobby, on concrete seats on a sidewalk, I’m less self-conscious.  I’m braver after books; they give me my convictions, fortitude. They affirm me, deny me. They are the last real magic.

Allow me to share some of the magic with you: A few excerpts from some books I like.  I can’t even get the ones I love because I’m in between houses. Here’s to hoping I’m not breaking International Copyright Law.

Caesar and Cleopatra by Bernard Shaw: this was my first encounter with this Irish dramatist.  His is by far my favorite representation of Caesar shrewd, charming, vain, light and with a bit of flair for the dramatic. I love his soliloquy before the Sphinx.

The man: Hail Sphinx: salutations from Julius Caesar! I have wandered in many lands seeking the lost regions from which my birth into this world exiled me, and the company of creatures such as myself. I have found flocks and pastures, men and cities but no other Caesar, no air native to me, no man kindred to me, none who can do my day’s deed and think my night’s thought. In the little world yonder Sphinx, my place is as high as yours only I wonder and you sit still; I conquer and you endure; I work and wonder, you watch and wait. I look up and am dazzled, look down and am darkened look around and am puzzled, whilst your eyes never turn from looking out- out of this world-to the lost regions-the home from which we have strayed. Sphinx, you and I, strangers to the race of men, are no strangers to one another: have I not been conscious of you and of this place since I was born? Rome is a madman’s dream: this is my reality. These starry lamps of yours seen from afar in Gaul, in Britain, in Spain, in Thessaly signaling great secrets from some eternal sentinel below, whose post I could never find. And here at last is their sentinel-an image of the immortal and constant part of my life, silent, full of thought, alone in this great silver desert. Sphinx, Sphinx: I have climbed mountains at night to hear the stealthy footfall of the winds that chase your sands in forbidden play-our invisible children, O Sphinx, laughing in whispers. My way hither was the way of destiny; for I am he of whose genius you are the symbol: part brute, part woman, part god- nothing of man in me at all. Have I read your riddle, Sphinx?

Troubled Sleep by Jean-Paul Sartre: a story of from the fringe of society when the world was burning, the Second World War. The artists, the pacifists during the Nazi occupation of France.  Sartre is a celebrated existentialist. The excerpt is about Boris, a career soldier and in the style of the picaresque hero.

It was true of course that he thoroughly disapproved of melancholy, but when the mood was on one, it was the very devil to shake it off. “I must have an unhappy temperament,” he thought. There were many reasons why he should rejoice; in particular he ought to congratulate himself on his narrow escape from peritonitis, on being quite well again. Instead of which, he was thinking: “I have outlived my day,” and the knowledge was bitter to him. When one is melancholy, even the reason for rejoicing become melancholy too so that one rejoices in a melancholy way. “Besides,” he thought, “I am dead.” For all practical purposes he had died at Sedan in 1940: all the years of life remaining to him were only boredom. He sighed again, following with his eyes a large green fly moving across the ceiling; and then he concluded: “I’m a second-rater.” This idea was profoundly disagreeable to him. Until now Boris had made it a rule never to question himself introspectively, and it had always worked very well. Besides so long as his main problem had merely been that of getting himself decently and neatly killed the fact that he was a second rater had not very much mattered; on the contrary, he had less to regret. But now all this had changed; destiny had decided that he was to live, and he was being forced to realize that he had no vocation, no talents, no money- none of the qualities in short which were necessary for living, with the single exception of good health. “How bored I am going to be,” he thought with a sense of frustration.

 

Oxford Lecturers on Poetry, 1909 by A.C Bradley:  this is an excerpt on a criticism of the Anthony and Cleopatra play by Shakespeare. I don’t know why I like this one but I really do. I like this by-gone era of literary debate

When he {Anthony} first meets Cleopatra he finds his Absolute. She satisfies, nay glorifies his whole being. She intoxicates his senses. Her wiles, her taunts, her furies and meltings, her laughter and tears, bewitch him all alike. She loves what he loves, and surpasses him. She can drink him to his bed, out-jest his practical jokes, out-act the best actresses who ever amused him, out-dazzle his own magnificence. She is his playfellow and yet a great queen. Angling in the river, playing billiards, flourishing the sword he used at Philippi, hopping forty paces in a public street, she remains an enchantress. Her spirit is made of wind and flame and the poet in him worships her no less than the man. He is under no illusions about her, knows all her faults, sees through her wiles, believes her capable of betraying him. It makes no difference. She is his heart’s desire made perfect. To love her is what he was born for. What have the gods in heaven to say against it? To imagine heaven is to imagine her; to die is to rejoin her. To deny that this is love is the madness of morality. He gives her every atom of his heart. She destroys him

A room without books is like a body without a soul- Chesterton. Read something.

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Remebering with you: part I


1 - 2 And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren't any other people living in the world. Anne Frank

Writing like living is something you can’t fake.  You have to sit in the chair, stay in the room, don’t dare leave the room unless…until it comes ‘in search of you.’ Shards of a past or glimpses of the future. Even when it comes in shades or shadow you always get the same feeling you get when you’re staring at the first crack of light in the skyline at daybreak.

I just finished watching the movie Darfur and I feel something dark and pungent in my soul that tastes like metal. There’s literally no one in the world I don’t hate. No one. Even knowing that that murky Chapter of history is closed, I don’t trust that knowledge. Maybe the victims may have lightened in pigment but the Al-assads and the Bashirs of this world are blood-brothers and Syria is the new axis of Evil. Maybe we lost the war somewhere in Kabul or Auschwitz or Eden…man’s innocence couldn’t survive one bite of the apple.

Little by little I’m learning not to be surprised at myself but the world astounds me. Ambivalence looks to be the code of our civic belief system and seemingly the most economical way to prove one’s self apart of the world. If you don’t have a personal “fuck you” stamped on your forehead you’re not one of us. In such a world oil is the only spoil. Oil is the only term of engagement. Libya had it; Syria doesn’t. Congratulations citizens, you’re living in a world in which governments take a rashly extravagant view as to the question of whether the government exists for man or man for the government.  According to deathly reliable statistic, governments alone were responsible for cold-blooded murder of 169 million people in the first 88 years of the 20th century. The Soviet Union alone could claim 55 million of these.

 

USSR: 61,911,000 murders

Vietnam: 1,678,000 murders

China: 45,314,000 murders

Poland: 1,585,000 murders

Germany: 20,946,000 murders

Pakistan: 1,503,000 murders

Japan: 5,964,000 murders

Yugoslavia: 1,072,000 murders

Cambodia: 2,035,000 murders

North Korea: 1,663,000 murders

Turkey: 1,883,000 murders

Mexico: 1,417,000 murders

 

Maybe…maybe the world really wasn’t created for us.

The data on moral behavior provides no support for the widespread psychodynamic belief in the unitary entity of conscious. Anonymous, cynical and honest. Evil like the flu just keeps on catching.

Understanding the genocide has been termed as ‘…part of being a moral adult.’ But what a genocide is, its mechanics , metaphysics and human truths is something we can never really understand.  Out of the experience that has been described by survivors as something outside the human experience, that has no place in it, only truth remains…unscarred, unapologetic. It is for the others to cower in discomfort and grudging acceptance or imprudent denial over its unabashed existence. And this is the truth, one of many…that it happened, that it has been allowed to happen and that it could happen again.  And it is for us, the detached third parties to stare at our TV screens in stunned disbelief and secret relief that we had no hand in it, that we couldn’t possibly resemble them. A Rwandan survivor said: ‘in the quiet moments, I think about the Genocide so as to know where to put my life but I can find no place for it. I simply mean that it is beyond the human.’

Genocide has left me shaken and faithless especially in man.

Why do I bother talking about something that I have never experience?  There are parts of me that God has left void…that He doesn’t fill. He has left them void for his own purposes, to punish me or to teach me. And it is because of this void that I am those children. I am all those children defaced by war and debased by it cruelty. I am all those lost souls displaced, ravaged and dehumanized. And you are too.

Did you know, in Rwanda they cut off the Achilles tendons of the women before they raped them so that they wouldn’t run. In Sri Lanka, the Sinhala casually set fire to a bus that had20 Tamils on board. These are things which we must remember, and which they must forget. You have voids too.

It takes all kinds to make a world; not so many to make a nation. In Rwanda it takes Hutu murderers and Tutsi survivors. Her political requirements after the Genocide were famously termed ‘emotionally incomprehensible.’ So what does it really take to make a nation? Ernst Renan ruling out dynastic linkage, race, religious ties and language rather eloquently concludes that a nation is ‘…a grand solidarity…a soul, a spiritual principle…a culmination of a long past of endeavors, sacrifice and devotion.’

‘…to have common glories in the past and to have a common will in the present; to have performed great deeds together, to wish to perform still more- these are the essential conditions for being a people.’

But greater than all these fundamental requirements as to commonalities, the individuals of a nation must also have ‘forgotten many things.’ Now there’s the rub. Forgetting. The real moments of life are brief, whether breathtakingly beautiful or achingly abhorrent. Always, always it is forgetting that spans a lifetime. Slights are easy, petty betrayals too but how does one forgive a child born to her and whose face reminds her of rape that spanned weeks? In the Armenian genocide, after they raped the women, they defecated in their mouths. In Rwanda, they fed them human blood. How do you forgive life or the world for treating your survival as an inconvenience? ‘Forgiving will help us forget together.’ The unbelievably brazen words of a Hutu genocidaire, a killer.

Is forgiveness not just right but moral?  “Only I possessed, and still possess, the moral truth of the blows that even today roar in my skull, and for that reason I am more entitled to judge, not only more than the culprit but more than society—which thinks only about its continued existence. The social body is occupied merely with safeguarding itself and could not care less about a life that has been damaged. At the very best, it looks forward, so that such things don’t happen again. But my resentments are there in order that the crime become a moral reality for the criminal, in order that he be swept into the truth of his atrocity-“ Jean Amery.

 

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