Fine. Just Fine.

My brother frustrates me.

In response to my nagging, frantic, persistent questions, he responds with “fine, just fine.” I feel as though he’s holding back. I want him to tell me how he “really feels.” I want him to translate feelings into language. To become eloquent about “his situation.” I want to believe—as smiling TV talk show hosts have taught me— that anything and everything can and should be said.

But we are not seated on a couch in front of a studio audience. And the scene of trauma is more inchoate than my desires will admit.

Amidst the production of eloquently written narratives about the now, the incessant and necessary historical production of how we came to be here, I want to reserve a space for what eludes us. I want to set a place at the table for the specter who may never show up and who may never leave. I want the awkwardness of an empty seat at a dinner party, the full plate of uneaten food, dutifully served.

I wonder if my desire to feel uncomfortable is a form of diasporic guilt. My brother wants the world to be “fine,” believes if he says it is it will be, perhaps in a throwback to the witchdoctors said to be in our family line. I want to probe the scab, to memorize its edges, to take impressions, create a sculpture: Scab of Trauma.

I am trained, after all, to use language as a way to probe gaps and silences, listen for the unheard and the lost.

Dare I confess I have been unable to write?

Even as I press for narratives and read others’ narratives, even as I react with rage, amusement, and irritation at international stories that “get it wrong or right,” even as I want to mark my distance from the madness, my engagement with the madness, my participation in the madness, my desire for the madness, my madness in the madness. I have been unable to write.

Like my brother, I am unable to create a coherent narrative. Someone burnt the paper. Someone else stole the ink. And the desk has bloodstains on it.

I don’t remember the alphabet. I no longer remember language. I can only use sacred words in a profane way.

I have forgotten how to think. I doubt feelings exist in language. Everything is going to be all right.

Perhaps my brother has it right. Perhaps he has found the only way to continue. At least one way to survive.

Fine. Just fine.

5 thoughts on “Fine. Just Fine.

  1. Lakini prof I am heartbroken. I am sad, sad, sad. Because we know that everything is not fine. And suddenly, anything that I try to write seems trite and self indulgent. And yes, I want to take the Post and the Sun writers to task for not capturing the nuances. Is that diasporic guilt? This utter uselessness that I feel? Am I a narcissistic bastid for putting my feelings on the table right now?

    I am sad.

    I hope that you and yours stay safe and well.

  2. I actually want more feelings, not less. I understand the need to be rational, but I think, to be honest, we can be irrational without being destructive; we can keen without letting out war cries. This, in fact, is my task, what drives my current attempts to write.

    I am numb. At some point, the pain will kick in.

    To you as well: I hope you and yours stay well and can find blessings in this drought.

  3. I am slightly ashamed you remember my archives better than I do–it might be floating around on my other computer, will search.

    I find it slightly amusing, and incredibly distasteful, that Michela Wrong (Ory had a great response to her a while back), has been cited numerous times as an “expert” on Kenya. I won’t even go into the “let’s make it sensational” angle on “tribe,” which, in a familiar move, refuses to accept legitimate, historical, political problems by making them sound primeval (the Africans have never really joined civilization) and then, somehow, also manages to make it sound like a reality show.

    I’m with you: 37 million strong can be strong.

  4. “In their quest for bourgeois respectability, the Kenyan authorities had gone so far as to ban smoking outdoors in the centre of Nairobi – something that even the most health-obsessed city council in Europe would hesitate to attempt”

    Knowing full well that she is not on the agenda, I saw one of Ms. Wrong’s gems above and yaani the contempt that she has for raia is so blatant- she does not even bother to hide it. Like how dare e.g. the Nairobi City Council ban outdoor smoking when our fearless leaders in Europe have not?

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