Sipping Tea

As a series of overlapping conversations—

I am reminded of a teacher, a neighbor, a friend, a relative

Of my impotence, my indifference, my disgust, my complicity

Of her cries, her bruises, her broken smile, her damaged life

This is not poetry.

We do not know what it means to be neighbors; we know even less what it means to be friends. I have been trying to understand how we could create, much less tolerate, a Moi, a Bokassa, an Amin, a Mugabe, more names in a seemingly endless series that speak to our failure to imagine, to speak, to resist, to critique. Failure might be too generous a term. Worse might be our indifference and our complicity.

In retrospect, and in the now, it’s easy to forget the fear tyranny inspires, the rumors of arrest and torture, the repeated assaults on freedom that a well-heeled middle class can afford to ignore. Having been a well-meaning Kenyan, I find it difficult to condemn well-meaning non-Kenyans.

There is, to a certain mind, let’s call it sophisticated or jaded or educated, a triteness to these formulations. It might be dismissed as liberal guilt in blackface. I have spent too many years learning about constrained agency and the pull of the social (the persistence of ideology?) to believe in the efficacy of revolution. This is not a pessimistic statement. Simply, perhaps, my distaste for narratives of martyrdom and heroism. My conception of history allows for resistance, never idolatry.

This is not, also, apathy. Instead, it is an attempt to think through and name that peculiar moment when a nationalist generation turned into a regime of tyrants.

I have tried to explain my mother’s generation in terms of trauma, perhaps as a way to explain their greed and apathy, their cruelty and indifference, their knowing acquiescence to the worst of abuses. I am not sure how to excuse my generation. (Even though this writing feels like an excuse.)

An image: my mother sits sipping tea with her friends. They are using the “good service.” This image might be the objective correlative of a failed national project.