I am engaged in yet another conversation in which my interlocutor looks at me patiently, pityingly, and gently tells me that “this is Kenya.” I snap back that it doesn’t have to be. My interlocutor offers what can only be described as the woiye expression.
I have been having these conversations for as long as I can remember. They are, in part, inter-generational and inter-regional. My Kiambu-living aunt has most often been the one to remind me that “this is Kenya,” usually when we are in Nairobi.
That she reminds me makes me wonder what it means to forget where one is. What is it to forget the space-time that one inhabits? Not the past, not the “was,” but the “is,” and how does such forgetting enable the “is” to morph into the “will be”? What does forgetting the “is” mean for memory and history?
I am not thinking, here, of forgetting traumatic events—though I continue to wonder if there can be such a thing as the trauma of the quotidian, and believe there is. Instead, I am wondering about the ongoing forgetting that demands constant reminding. The ongoing “forgetting” (that might not be the right word) that we mean to correct when we insist on hereness and nowness.
And what is it to insist on hereness and nowness, to continually nudge others into the present we occupy? What anxieties about living in time and on time, about sharing space, compel our constant need to affirm that we are in synchronous time-space?
How do we live with those who are out of sync? How do we live when we are out of sync?
Hereness and nowness rarely coincide. The more extended the not-here, the more difficult to occupy the-now.
A banal example.
One listens to conversations with a gracious, slightly confused smile, unable to follow cause and effect, stone throw and ripple, and, when proffered, explanations rarely capture the urgency of the now and then. From a different now, one finds it difficult to understand why this particular now should matter or be interesting.
To ask such questions when one is off-time and off-place suggests something about the urgencies of our own quotidian. Of course, we also construct intimacy as hereness, an extending nowness. And so to be in the same place and time is to envision the extension of that being. A banal explanation for why we return to places where we first “felt.”
I remain troubled by the intimacies that structure hereness and nowness, the demand that one be in time and on time, the invocations of those who are fully present, as expected.
To be fully present is to aka nyumba, to set up one’s house, to affirm one’s commitment to a place, to a history, to a trajectory.
The word “plot” recurs too often to be accidental.
It used to mean “something to do.” Now it means somewhere for living to occur, histories to be created, futures to unfold. It has become a repository of time and place, of hereness and nowness. Plots make forgetting difficult, insist that one remember. Childhood meanings blend into adult tongues.
Stutters break time. And, in the interval, nowness is anticipated.