Not Here

“We were born sick
I heard them say it”

- Hozier, Take me to church

Sometimes it’s easy to imagine away parts of life. Journeys to parts of Kenya reveal neglect. Everywhere the bleeding reveals itself. Mother of two, income – 6000 a month. Orphan, sells fruit for 10 bob a day. Schools boast of a teacher to student ratio of 40 as elite.

Broken bodies plead for their humanity.

My body is allowed to navigate in certain ways. I try to make myself smaller

“Check your privilege”

As often and as freely as possible. I wonder how to do this without being rude. “No, I insist,” moves from being a plea to a statement barely muttered.

The violence of silence can be heard in the pauses between words.

Even here we slip into roles. Me, the bright eyed visitor. Them, the welcoming hosts. An experience is manufactured. I don’t know how to say no.

Socks with sandals
are not considered
appropriate wear

Except maybe
if you’re a village elder
proudly carrying the
Canadian flag.

Nairobi blinds. The imagination destroying space narrows ideas of Kenya.

If you are on the margins of the centre where are you?

“Let’s go somewhere,
somewhere so remote
even the clouds
haven’t heard of it,”
she whispered
to the wind.
But the wind
kept blowing
knowing,
nowhere is remote.

The news reported 4 dead in a car crash near Chemusot.

4 dead, reported the news. A car crashed near Chemusot.

4 dead, reported the news.

“Last week we lost our chief in a car crash.”

I do not know how to unimagine death. I do not know how to unimagine life. Instead I just sit, imagining. Trajectories of lives stretch like veins. “Brother to, sister to, mother of, uncle to, friend of…”
Unspoken “enemy of, screwed over, hated by, guilty of…”

She has parked
somewhere between
Londiani
and a hard place.
‘where on earth am i?’

Language continues to gather and alienate. Tongues move in ways I didn’t even fathom they could. But eyes remain constant. The language of the pupil is the only constant.

“Command me to be well.”

Postcards on Dictatorship

The problem, I have come to realise, is that some bodies just refuse to be passive. You ascribe certain narratives. These narratives are meant to fully inform all decision. It is all the information they need. The problem continues to be that some bodies ask “but what about that other stuff?”

Refuse:

verb

Indicate or show that one is not willing to do something.

 The problem is that some bodies are not willing to do the things that you told them to do. That some bodies having been willed, show that they will not.

The problem, it seems, is that some bodies will.

Willing bodies are an indication that bodies can will. Bodies, aware of their capacity for will tend towards it. So maybe the problem, then, is that wiling is infectious. That my dress my choice echoed, gathered and infected voices globally. That the class of students who thought they were pushing at a wall in Lang’ata were actually toppling a domino. Perhaps the real problem is that in being willing they remind others of their will, and in reminding others of their will, they will others.

Possibly the real problem is in the math. In realising that the people being willed are more than the people having the will thrust upon them. That tyrannical numbers mean nothing against (un)willing bodies.

“Your current frequencies of understanding outweigh that which you have been given to understand”

- Saul Williams

The solution thus is to keep them unwilling. Make them chase versions of themselves that they cannot attain. Remind them that true happiness lies in a dark Lamborghini, outside a villa, by the beach, with a perfectly chiseled ‘opposite sex’ partner, with more money in the bank than you can spend. While doing this remind them of the values of a real job. A steady one in a steady company. Remind them of stability. Remind them that their bodies are imperfect, in need of constant fixing. Tell them that whatever natural features they have are a problem. That hair must be straight, curly, full bodied, without growth, unsplit ended and constantly fresh. That skin must be perfectly smooth – a single pimple is cause for alarm.

To ensure this works make sure you keep them untaught. Create a disdain for knowledge. Start a dichotomy between book smarts and street smarts. Make sure that street smarts are valued over book smarts. Keep the school curriculum as far away from real life as possible. In conversation throw your opinion about the real value of reading, something casual like wrapping meat. Remind them that the idea of knowledge is foreign. That reading is unAfrican.

To further enforce this take away their time and money. Not only should pursuit of knowledge be useless; make it a problem. Make it that they have to ask themselves whether they’d rather eat or buy a book. Make it that they don’t have time to read. If, by some anomaly, they do find the time make it that they can’t afford to buy a book. If, by more anomalies, they have both time and money, make it that they have no interest.

If some bodies still insist on willing react disproportionately. Violent outbursts are vastly encouraged. Turn them against each other. Make them so scared that they begin to silence willing bodies on their own. Use this fear without prejudice. Use it to make them blame each other. Use it to deflect conversations from yourself.

Keep them scared.

The problem, you see, is people willing – don’t let them.

“and then your eight-year-old was in prison”

-          Ku[to]starehe, The Cost of a Playground

A Series of Related Musings

 

 Now we are tear-gassing school children?

-          Phyllis Muthoni

It could always be argued that,

having been shot

it was really

the hearts fault

for not beating.

After all, hearts have been

known to beat on with holes

in them for years.

*

How many letters would it take to spell out a gasp?

*

 

The constitution:

“37. Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to  resent petitions to public authorities.”

 vs
 

 A Mad Kenyan Woman:

“This is to say to persons who are here: You are not here.

You are not permitted to be here.

You are un-here.

You are un-persons.”

 

*

Perhaps it is only in looking at children that we are truly forced to look beyond ourselves. To imagine the world beyond desire, beyond the self.

Perhaps it is only in imagining that we can change.

Perhaps change [redacted by a canister and lactose intolerance]

 

*

“We are all connected. We are Baga. Some of us are Charlie.”

-          Brenda Wambui, Injustice. Everywhere.

 

“Names are gathered; Trayvon, Kwekwe, Nyamweya, Osebe, Marrisa, Brown, him, her, them, they. Humanity aches. We feel the pain, share the pain.

A people in mourning.”

-          Lifelines

 

*

What does it mean to centre the margins?

*

A picture circulates – a child wails.

*

The first thing you hear when they shoot a teargas canister is the pop. Then for a lingering second you watch as the canister lands spinning and sending the white gas everywhere. If you’ve ‘experienced this often you know exactly what’s going to happen. If it’s your first time you are heavily panicky- this is fine. If you have experienced this once or twice that’s the most dangerous. For a few seconds your mind tells you that it’s okay. It isn’t that bad.

Then it begins to sting.

At first it is a slight burning in your cheeks, like you’re blushing really hard. That quickly escalates to a burning sensation. Your eyes start watering and your nose starts running. You start sneezing. The more you sneeze the worse it gets. Nothing seems to make it better. Your brain sends floods of adrenaline through your body. In the moment it feels like it will never end.

*

When I was a child I went swimming with my parents often. Having recently received permission to go to the deep end in school I was very excited about the next family swimming trip. As soon as we got there I dove into the deep end.

I sank like a rock.

For about 6 seconds I flailed about in the water panicking. Every time I tried to take a breath I swallowed more water. Eventually I remembered the secret – kicking. I pointed myself to the nearest wall and kicked as hard as I could. I didn’t tell anyone.

 For 6 months I had nightmares about drowning.

 

*

 Everyone remembers the first time they were hit by teargas.

*

Surely, this isn’t normal.

 

 

Unlearning the Man

1999. Bothered by my constant crying my aunt shows me a book “real men don’t cry,” I want to be a real man.

I stop crying.

I don’t understand why real men didn’t cry. I’m just told they don’t. The only thing worse than not being able to be a real man is being a girl.

*

2007. My grandfather dies. He was a real man. Standing by his grave I try to be a real man, I try not to cry. The tears tickle at the edges of my eyes.

In shame I run away.

In the farm I steel myself. I do not cry.

Sokoro would be proud.

 *

 

2014. “Fuck you and your poetry. You’re wasting your talent. You could have been a lawyer.”

I refuse to stifle the tears. They flow until my head aches.

*

In front of the bathroom mirror, my father cries. The mirror gradually disappears.

Or, in front of the bathroom mirror, my father cries. His reflection disappears.

-          Kweli, Views of My Father Crying, Again.

 

*

Few things are more precious

than tear drops clinging

to an eyelash

daring each other to jump.

*

2015. There will be tears.

2015

There is a feeling of spring, of little seed of hope scattered in hearts.

It’s arbitrary. Someone decided ‘this is it. This is where it begins.’

There is a hope, a hanging a fleeting resolve. A firm resolve. A second chance.

Why wait to make change?

What time is better than now?

But why now? What is special about now?

 

There is confusion. I remember that confusion is the state that brings about change.

There will be rhythm. There will be eggs broken on the roadside. Dishes will stay overnight – they will be washed with reluctance.

There will be disappointment.

 

There is joy. Milestones. First steps will be made.

When does the present begin?”

 Berlant

 

There is anticipation.

There is fear

There is apathy. There is writing.

On a lonely beach the moon pulls the ocean closer to a bottle of beer. Toes are tickled by sand. There is newness, there is sameness.

 

There is life.

There will be life.

 

A Test in G Major

1. You are:

a) a bolt of electricity running through my veins. I fought to control you but you have filled my cells and burned all the water out of me. As I dry at your contacts they have screamed that I should let go, but my fingers refuse to pry themselves away.

b) a gasp interwoven with the politics of breathing. Inhaled, you are both fleeting and permanent.

c) the point between decision and action.

d) breaking. Inside yourself you have painted the walls with a toothbrush and fluffed your soul to create the illusion of order. You have failed. You know you have failed and you know anyone you let in will know you have failed. So you lock the door and shout to passersby from your frontyard.

e) all of the above.

 

2. I am:

a) shattered in your presence. Shards of myself have cut your palms revealing the psalms that were hidden between your lifeline and the nook under your thumb.

b) but a silent man disguised in a noisy body.

c) writing poetry

d) failing to write poetry for my entire imagination is captured by the idea of you, but even that is fleeting. It fills fractures in the most delicate of ways – a presence that is only really felt by its absence.

e) all of the above

Fractures

The increasing violence of love continues to be inflicted.

Foryourowngood.

 

“She kissed as if

she alone could forge

the signature of the sun”

-          Saul Williams

Hurt people hurt people. So the cycle of pain continues.

 

Perhaps, people’s hurt hurts people. Stuck in a cycle of pain that only happens because it happens we self propagate.

 

“You are loved”

“I love you”

“Stay safe”

 

What does it mean to care about precarity in a precarious space?

(Riddle: My top is over the edge, my bottom is not, my heart is speaking – who am I?)

A question rephrases itself: Does stating precarity increase it? Things out of balance will continue to spiral.

Somehow, I remind myself, we will survive this place. Everyday it seems more of a plea than a statement of intent.

That body should speak

When silence is

Limbs dance

The grief sealed in memory;

That body might become tongue

Tempered to speech …

NourbeSe Phillips, She Tries her Tongue

 

“What do you think we’re going to do? Ask?”

–          Tupac

 

Broken letters continue to find their way onto the page. A meandering happens, a dance between saying now and saying then. Between talking about what is happening in the context of what happened but still imagining around what is happening.

Few people know how to do this – I’m not one of them.

 

This is all that’s left; fractures of writing and broken bodies…

… and it continues not to end.

Finding Kenya

An audio clip I had once on my phone has Redykulass talking about police brutality. It begins with a police man asking rapid fire questions “kijana unaenda wapi? Unatoka wapi? Jina lako ni nani? Babako anaitwa nani? Apana jibu nani?” At this point there is the sound of violence before the harassment continues. The police talk about how they can charge the citizen with anything up to “looking at a government building suspiciously.” Eventually they were working their way towards a bribe. That was the entire point of the skit.

On Brainstorm I write:

Police brutality is not something that is new to Kenya. It’s difficult to speak about police brutality when state sanctioned brutality has been all you have lived with. Is it brutality if it is all you know? Who will you shout to? Who will listen? And, if you already know no one will listen – what is the point of speaking?

 

…we seem to have gone to sleep and woken up in the 90s

-          Aleya Kassam, Look in the Mirror

I’m wary of thinking about this Kenya as a return. What does it mean to imagine that this is a forward? What does it mean to accept that, perhaps, we lack the tools to handle this new thing that is happening to us? What does it mean to accept that we’re afraid?

On social media islamophobia becomes a thing. Users cyber bully a friend because she has the audacity to say she is human. She is valid. She exists.

 

You were never

meant to be here.

So you tiptoe around

shadows of your former selves

hoping that your feet

don’t break the

silence

 

Bills are written. For half a day citizens are searching for copies of a bill that was never meant to be seen. Citizens are demanding to see a bill before it is passed into law. Copies are scanned, sent on email. One is uploaded. Propaganda is spread. Comparing bits of the bill that we’re being tweeted by the government and the bits that were unspoken.

I’m wondering how much of Kenya lives there – in the unspoken.

 

This is a note to the unwritten futures of the past

-          Saul Williams

 

If spoken

then created.

 

The language of violence continues to spread. People discuss security. This imagination destroying concept. Security, in Kenya, is a word that wears a proper tie, sits up straight and is hyper aware. It is a word that destroys all notion of “thinking” and is geared towards “acting.” It is a no nonsense, destroy everything word. It demands to be listened to within its frames.

It demands death.

And we gladly provide it with death. Al Jazeera runs a documentary. Makaburi was killed by the police. We knew this. We know that the police in Kenya are going around killing people because we know that the police in Kenya are going around killing people. Still we hide behind things like “where the body ” and “but terrorism.”

“These are

necessary steps.”

Firm feet

pound

disposable bodies.

 

Patriot(n):

late 16th century (in the late Latin sense): from French patriote, from late Latin patriota ‘fellow countryman,’ from Greek patriōtēs, from patrios ‘of one’s fathers,’ from patris ‘fatherland.’

The Kenyan “patriots” ask for blood. They demand to see dead bodies as proof that their bodies are protected. Whose father’s land is this? Which blood line is clear enough to protect us from us? How far back do we have to go to find the Kenyan?

What happens once we find them?

She has stood

in the hallways

with murderers,

looked them

in the eye,

and refused to die.

(Somehow, we will survive this place)

Texting

 D 10.23 pm

Hey :)

G 10.24 pm

(received sexual innuendo, greeting)

D 10.25pm

(event)

G 10.26 pm

(imagination)

(imagination)

(event)

D 10.27 pm

(Mis)interpretation

G 10.27 pm

(defense)

D 10.27 pm

(rebuttal)

G 10.27 pm

(defense)

(REBUTTAL)

D 10.27 pm

(REBUTTAL)

(DEFENSE)

G 2.00 am

(apology)

D 3.30 am

(acceptance)

G 10.23 am

Hey :)

Lifelines

“There is not in the world one single poor lynched bastard, one poor tortured man, in whom I am not also murdered and humiliated”

-          Aime Cesarie

 

It’s almost as if there are no words for this pain. Emails rush in – Ferguson, Perth, Nairobi, Chicago, Hong Kong, Mandera and more. Names are gathered; Trayvon, Kwekwe, Nyamweya, Osebe, Marrisa, Brown, him, her, them, they. Humanity aches. We feel the pain, share the pain.

A people in mourning.

We have to live. So we go to meetings, barely able to pay attention. Feeling isolated in our compassion, together.

 

What is the

collective noun

for a gathering of

lonely people?

 

 

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

–          The beatles.

 

So we reach out. We reply to emails. We organise. Letters of solidarity are sent across the world. We remind each other: “You are necessary,” “you are special,” “you are needed,” “you are loved,”

“you are not alone”

“you are not alone”

 

Because we know. We know that being alone when the world is structured against you is hard. Harder still when you decide to pay attention to this structure and begin the work of dismantling it. So we take care of each other – no one else will…

…and that must count for something.