Which Wagalla?

“her mother was burned alive as she watched” cannot casually be passed by.

How do eyes imagine the sight of a loved one in flames?


and the smell

and the smell

and the smell and


It smells exactly like what it is

–  Sherman Alexie, Fire as a Verb and Noun


I find the Wagalla massacre outside the realm of my imagination. How can we even begin to think about a violence so profound that we cannot even imagine it? How do we start to imagine the site of your source of protection screaming for protection? How can we begin to imagine the helplessness? How can we begin to imagine the self hate? And to what extent can we imagine? We can read books, and yes, we have. We have watched documentaries, heard stories, told stories, imagined fictions, but can we really even touch the surface that is what it is?

How can we think about lives that we can’t imagine?

I’m not good near guns. I start shaking. In my mind I begin to think about the many ways I could be killed. Young black men are not known to stay alive for long around guns. We’re not famous for our resilience in this particular field. Once I bumped shoulders with a police man carrying a gun. All through our conversation he was fingering his gun, as if waiting for a moment, a reason. Our conversation lasted 15 minutes. My hands were still shaking 4 hours later.

“Between February 10th and 14th 1984, heavily armed security officers descended on the quiet Wajir area ostensibly to mop up guns illegally held by locals. They rounded up Somali men of the Degodia clan from their homes in the wee hours of the morning of 10th February and held them up at the local airstrip for four days without water and food.”

– Remembering Wagalla

I’m wondering what it means to acknowledge that we cannot remember Wagalla. That the histories around the period have been so sanitized that all we know is that terrible terrible things were done to citizens by the state. That any notion we have of remembering cannot even come close to what happened in Wagalla.

I’m wondering what it means to know that even that is a form of torture. Even that is a continuing damage on the people who are now alive. To watch society unable to remember its violent past. What it means to have gone through Wagalla and still seen #Kasaraniconcentrationcamp. To be reminded by the state, every day, that it can happen again. That the state is willing to go there again, if need be. To wonder what “if need be” even means. To remember that need could be anything as arbitrary as forgetting your ID card at home. To know that need is nowhere within the realm of things that you can control. Not only to live with the history of Wagalla, but with its presence.

 “her mother was burned alive as she watched”

 How do we begin to unburn a fire?

 “How do you

reverse engineer

a death?”

– Witness #101


Are there ways to remember the present, or do we just live it?

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