this feels familiar . . .

Across a range of Kenyan spaces, one hears worries about “losing gains” and “returning to the Moi era.” Silence has started to fall, especially in areas where necessary fluencies had never been acquired. Feelings trained under repressive regimes are reactivated. Now, we act as we have been trained to act: lie low like an envelope.

Untraining did not happen.

Two elements concern me: the narrative of “gains” obscures the very real ethno-patriarchal and elite-making forces that have guided Kenya in the post-Moi era, forces that have more deeply entrenched the idea that only the well connected can and should lead. Second, many Kenyans lack the necessary tools and frameworks to understand, engage, and critique power.

The post-Kenyatta and post-Moi eras were supposed to be post-patronage eras. Regional, ethno-patriarchal “mafias” would lose influence and, in their place, more radically diverse coalitions would be embraced, or would be possible. This has not happened.

Those groups classified as vulnerable in the TJRC Report—minorities, indigenous people, persons with disabilities, persons living with HIV/AIDS, refugees, prisoners, the poor, women and children—remain vulnerable. Somalis, long a target of state repression and worse, continue to be targeted, treated as “un-Kenyan,” and, worse, as unhuman.

A post-Kenyatta and post-Moi world would have changed the status of groups labeled as vulnerable: measures to move past patronage economies, measures to break down the elite/vulnerable distinctions, measures to create strong coalitions that reduce vulnerability. This did not happen.

Instead, the strongly ethno-patriarchal nature of Kenyan politics has intensified: we are now in a Baba v. Baba economy.

While we have strong cohorts of women representatives at the national and county levels, these women never feature—or are never featured by the mainstream press—as active, engaged, important, or transformative.

CORD v. Jubilee is a Baba v. Baba affair. The principals of both coalitions are men. And while, every so often, a woman will peek through or be seen in the background, rarely, if ever, do women feature as key decision makers. Rarely, if ever, are we called on to rally behind women. Rarely, if ever, are we asked to see women’s labor as world building and world sustaining.

A recent broadcast featured Rachel Ruto, the deputy president’s wife. She has been traveling across the country teaching women how to “grow” themselves: to improve their crop yields, diversify production methods, and build better lives. She spoke of seeing women who, having learned how to “grow” themselves, could now speak in public, afford better clothes, afford cars, dream of different, more possible futures.

Friends and I have been thinking about women’s work: about growth and sustainability, about making and sharing, about enabling dreams and facilitating ambitions. About what this labor, enacted across numerous small groups across the country, teaches us about how to live together. About the politics of this labor. About how to make this labor visible and political, a foundation for what it means to live together.

Kenya continues to lose as long as we refuse to learn from and emulate women’s practices of world building and world sustaining.
*
Here is Antonio Gramsci on the intellectual:

Every social group, coming into existence on the original terrain of an essential function in the world of economic production, creates together with itself, organically, one or more strata of intellectuals which give it homogeneity and an awareness of its own function not only in the economic but also in the social and political fields. The capitalist entrepreneur creates alongside himself the industrial technician, the specialist in political economy, the organisers of a new culture, of a new legal system, etc.

And

One of the most important characteristics of any group that is developing towards dominance is its struggle to assimilate and to conquer “ideologically” the traditional intellectuals, but this assimilation and conquest is made quicker and more efficacious the more the group in question succeeds in simultaneously elaborating its own organic intellectuals.

I have been puzzling over the idea that Kenya is anti-intellectual. Increasingly, I am unconvinced by this claim. Now, I am more interested in trying to figure out what kinds of intellectuals populate Kenyan spaces. Gramsci’s notion of the “organic intellectual,” one who emerges with and justifies the dominant order has been very useful.

Across Kenyan spaces, one encounters many organic intellectuals willing to defend the state’s actions: Dr. Martin Kimani, in the New York Times, defending Kenya against the ICC; Professor Githu Muigai, on TV, defending the state’s right to limit freedoms; solicitor general Njee Muturi, on TV, defending the state’s right to limit freedoms. Moses Kuria, Ngunjiri Wambugu, Mutahi Ngunyi, Dennis Itumbi, all willing to defend the state’s actions. To see these men—and many others—as organic intellectuals—is to recognize that their role is not only to justify the dominant order, but to circulate those justifications in a range of technical and common vernaculars, harvested from political science, anthropology, sociology, economics, rumor, gossip, and religion.

That is: we must see how the state uses economic datasets in conjunction with rumor and gossip and religious discourse. We must see how each of these amplify each other.

Simply: the work of the organic intellectual from the dominant order is to justify the dominant order. Sometimes, this justification entails a wholesale, unquestioning defense of the dominant order. Sometimes, this defense entails saying that, for instance, “the president has bad advisors.” Sometimes, this defense entails saying that damaging institutional frameworks and structures are sound, but they simply need better administrators. Much-needed structural critique is, thus, impossible.

Simultaneously, we must figure out what freedom-pursuing intellectual work looks like. It must be work that prioritizes human life over development indexes. It must be work that speaks about people before numbers. It must be work that diminishes vulnerability. It must be work capable of institutional and structural critique—work that knows how to work with policy, but pursues freedom.

My sense is that freedom-seeking work has been superseded by policy-making work, that details have crowded out goals.

Nudge economies have taken over Radical economies.

Nudge economies can too easily become complicit in dominant orders—because their focus is never structural, can never see or take on the whole picture. Kenya is full of nudge economies. We need radical economies.

We need radical economies and movements and knowledges that will impede and, if possible, undo our docile bodies. We need radical critiques that name and work against fear, intimidation, and silencing. We need robust intellectual work that names and works against the state’s repressive strategies.

While we will need the vulgar and the obscene, the insults and the jokes, we also need strong, compelling arguments, richly detailed, grounded in the best thinking available, anchored in freedom-seeking imaginations.

Thinking that looks to histories of liberation—from Haiti to Zimbabwe, from Sojourner Truth to Thomas Sankara. Thinking that looks to radical imaginations—from Ida B. Wells to Wangari Maathai, from Nina Simone to Miriam Makeba. Thinking that navigates what it can and undoes what it must.

Our survival is at stake.

a benediction

We

who gather
one by one, into some and many, driven and afraid, to be and build, sustained by promises we learn to make

We

who tremble
undoing word by word, step by step, world by world, all that keeps us impossible

We

who gather
astounded by who we discover ourselves to be

We

who remember
spilling libations for the many thousands gone

We

who gather
fragments from barely there winds, snatches of song-making, truth-telling, love-sharing, building with wisps and filaments

We

who pursue
freedom dreams

We gather

fragments

“We have our shoes on. We’re not dead”
*
“Ni Ngai”
I nod.

“Ni Ngai”
I nod.

“Ni Ngai”
I nod.
*
“say something”

“if you’re alive, say something”

“say something”
*
“My friend, she’s telepathic. She felt . . . something . She called right after the accident. She felt . . . something.”

Books and films describe attachment as a filament—when something happens to those you’re attached to, you’re supposed to feel . . . something.

What if you don’t?

What if you can’t?
*
“Ni Ngai.”
I nod.

“Nituhoye.”
I walk away.

I will not question belief.
I will not sit through its rituals.
*
“we are dying”

“we are dying”

“we have died”

“we have died”
*
“Ni Ngai”
*
“I’m scratching. That’s a good sign. It means blood is flowing. I’m scratching”

Fuzzy about what to do, I develop sympathy symptoms, random symptoms: rashes, hiccups, night fevers, random stomach ailments. Little things that will not stop the work of care.

My body has always processed emotion through sickness. Doctors tell me there’s nothing physically wrong. Reading Freud was necessary.

This is not about me.
*
“Show them the pictures.”

I lift the phone, find the gallery, show yet another visitor the pictures.

“You see? This is where they had to cut me out.”
*
“we are dying”

“we are dying”

“we are dying”

“we have deaded”

Most accurately, the Kikuyu translates as, “we have deaded,” not “we have died.”
*
“We have our shoes on. We are not yet dead.”
*
An anecdote:

The police officer handling the file pulled it out and pushed it to the side. He wandered in and out of the office, pretended it was anywhere but next to him. I said, “officer, you see I am an old woman. Won’t you complete the report for me?”

He continued to putter.

I said, “officer, now it’s getting to lunch time, and we’re getting hungry.”

He continued to putter.

I pulled three tropical sweets from my bag. I took one, offered him one, and then said the other would be for someone else.

“After this, we can have lunch together.”

He completed the report.
*
“the lorry was coming—I drove for a gap—it slid off the car—I was pinned to the side of the car”

“these drugs, they have morphine—I don’t want to get addicted”
*
“Ni Ngai”
*
Saran Wrap: to keep bandages from getting wet. I wrap it round my mother’s arm. The work of repair.
*
“I hadn’t told other people. They will be told. They will come to visit.”

We stock up on milk, baking happens, much tea is made.
*
A story for the holidays: “Ni Ngai.”

A story with illustrations. A story with a present-here narrator. A story that is not the story it could have been.
*
“Ni Ngai”
*

story as repair
writing as repair
busywork as repair
serving tea as repair
story as repair

*
“You just keep baking,” my mother tells me

Security Amendments: simple facts

The constitution is the supreme law of the land.

259. (1) This Constitution shall be interpreted in a manner that—
(a) promotes its purposes, values and principles;
(b) advances the rule of law, and the human rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights;
(c) permits the development of the law; and
(d) contributes to good governance.
*
Changes to the constitution under the guise of changes to security laws are unconstitutional. The constitution is very clear about how it may be changed.

255. (1) A proposed amendment to this Constitution shall be enacted in accordance with Article 256 or 257, and approved in accordance with clause (2) by a referendum, if the amendment relates to any of the following matters—
(a) the supremacy of this Constitution;
(b) the territory of Kenya;
(c) the sovereignty of the people;
(d) the national values and principles of governance mentioned in Article 10 (2) (a) to (d).
(e) the Bill of Rights;
(f) the term of office of the president;
(g) the independence of the Judiciary and the commissions and independent offices to which Chapter Fifteen applies.
(h) the functions of Parliament;
(i) the objects, principles and structure of devolved government;
or
(j) the provisions of this Chapter.

(2) A proposed amendment shall be approved by a referendum under clause (1) if—
(a) at least twenty per cent of the registered voters in each of at least half of the counties vote in the referendum; and
(b) the amendment is supported by a simple majority of the citizens voting in the referendum.

(3) An amendment to this Constitution that does not relate to a matter mentioned in clause (1) shall be enacted either—
(a) by Parliament, in accordance with Article 256; or
(b) by the people and Parliament, in accordance with Article 257.

256. (1) A Bill to amend this Constitution—
(a) may be introduced in either House of Parliament;
(b) may not address any other matter apart from consequential amendments to legislation arising from the Bill;
(c) shall not be called for second reading in either House within ninety days after the first reading of the Bill in that House; and
(d) shall have been passed by Parliament when each House of Parliament has passed the Bill, in both its second and thirdreadings, by not less than two-thirds of all the members of that House.

(2) Parliament shall publicise any Bill to amend this Constitution, and facilitate public discussion about the Bill.

(3) After Parliament passes a Bill to amend this Constitution, the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament shall jointly submit to the President—
(a) the Bill, for assent and publication; and
(b) a certificate that the Bill has been passed by Parliament in accordance with this Article.

(4) Subject to clause (5), the President shall assent to the Bill and cause it to be published within thirty days after the Bill is enacted by Parliament.

(5) If a Bill to amend this Constitution proposes an amendment relating to a matter mentioned in Article 255 (1)—
(a) the President shall, before assenting to the Bill, request the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to conduct, within ninety days, a national referendum for approval of the Bill; and
(b) within thirty days after the chairperson of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has certified to the President that the Bill has been approved in accordance with Article 255 (2), the President shall assent to the Bill and cause it to be published.

257. (1) An amendment to this Constitution may be proposed by a popular initiative signed by at least one million registered voters.

(2) A popular initiative for an amendment to this Constitution may be in the form of a general suggestion or a formulated draft Bill.

(3) If a popular initiative is in the form of a general suggestion, the promoters of that popular initiative shall formulate it into a draft Bill.

(4) The promoters of a popular initiative shall deliver the draft Bill and the supporting signatures to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which shall verify that the initiative is supported by at least one million registered voters.

(5) If the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is satisfied that the initiative meets the requirement of this Article, the Commission shall submit the draft Bill to each county assembly for consideration within three months after the date it was submitted by the Commission.

(6) If a county assembly approves the draft Bill within three months after the date it was submitted by the Commission, the speaker of the county assembly shall deliver a copy of the draft Bill jointly to the Speakers of the two Houses of Parliament, with a certificate that the county assembly has approved it.

(7) If a draft Bill has been approved by a majority of the county assemblies, it shall be introduced in Parliament without delay.

(8) A Bill under this Article is passed by Parliament if supported by a majority of the members of each House.

(9) If Parliament passes the Bill, it shall be submitted to the President for assent in accordance with Articles 256 (4) and (5).

(10) If either House of Parliament fails to pass the Bill, or the Bill relates to a matter mentioned in 255 (1), the proposed amendment shall be submitted to the people in a referendum under clause (10).
*
This is not my language. This is the language of the constitution. This matters.
*
258. (1) Every person has the right to institute court proceedings, claiming that this Constitution has been contravened, or is threatened with contravention.

(2) In addition to a person acting in their own interest, court proceedings under clause (1) may be instituted by—
(a) a person acting on behalf of another person who cannot act in their own name;
(b) a person acting as a member of, or in the interest of, a group or class of persons;
(c) a person acting in the public interest; or
(d) an association acting in the interest of one or more of its members.
*
We are in fractured times.

The Media is (must be singular) upset about those portions of the Security Bill Amendments that affect it. Other organizations are similarly upset about those portions of the Amendments that affect them.

Where is the global vision?

A global vision must resist the impulse to say “Kenya is bigger than any single person.” This approach refuses to value each human life, each individual, each person resident in or attached to Kenya.

The abstraction cannot take the place of the bodied enfleshments.

What vision of Kenya can place the value of each and every life resident here and attached to here at its center? That’s the vision worth pursuing.

Kenya should never “be bigger than,” because Kenya is precisely the value placed on each and every person within its borders and attached to it in some way.
*
Who speaks for the refugees whose worth as humans is being devalued?

Who speaks for the arrested, whose rights to a proper process are being taken away by legalized, indefinite detention?

Who speaks for due process when the process of acquiring evidence can no longer be challenged?

Who speaks against the class war instantiated by multiplying fines by factors of 10 and 100?

Who speaks about the illegal, unconstitutional laws being conferred on the presidency?

Who speaks for the right to privacy?
*
I am not hopeful.

Because the many who stood by as #kasaraniconcentrationcamp happened, the many who were silent, will remain silent. And, anyway, that ship has sailed. Little alarm was raised as Somalis were profiled, disaggregated, made to demonstrate loyalty to Kenya, and still abused.

The silence—it is here. Already, we are whispering, because the president’s honor and dignity cannot be assailed. A tweet is actionable.

This is fear.

This is intimidation.

This is the taking away of freedom.

It is wrong. It is bad. It is evil.

A Clarification

Kenya’s solicitor general lied.

Here’s what the constitution says about rights and freedoms:

19. (1) The Bill of Rights is an integral part of Kenya’s democratic state and is the framework for social, economic and cultural policies.

(2) The purpose of recognising and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is to preserve the dignity of individuals and communities and to promote social justice and the realisation of the potential of all human beings.

(3) The rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights—

(a) belong to each individual and are not granted by the State;

(b) do not exclude other rights and fundamental freedoms not in the Bill of Rights, but recognised or conferred by law, except to the extent that they are inconsistent with this Chapter; and

(c) are subject only to the limitations contemplated in this Constitution.
*
I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve been studying language for a very long time. No bill in parliament can supersede the constitution. None. None at all. Any unconstitutional law is unconstitutional.

The state DOES NOT GRANT RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS. Repeat after me: THE STATE DOES NOT GRANT RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS. The constitution, which founds the state, explicitly states this.

It is explicit. There. Check your constitution.

Refuse the state’s fuckery. Refuse the fuckery of the media who will not bother to check the constitutions they claim to have.

freedom: absolute, limited, voided

The withdrawal of trust from normally functioning words constitute[s] a special vulnerability to the signifier, leading one to ways of acting over which all control seem[s] to have been lost.
—Veena Das, Life and Words

Kenya’s solicitor general appeared on national television to defend a rights-destroying document. “There are no absolute freedoms,” he intoned. “Especially not when those freedoms impinge on others’ rights.” I paraphrase. “All freedoms must be limited, to the extent that they infringe on other people’s freedom” he continues, “except for four: freedom from cruel and inhumane treatment, freedom from slavery, the right to a fair trial, and the right to habeas corpus”

He is the first Kenyan official I have heard use the word freedom over and over, and each time, he fractures its meaning a little more.
*
A rights-destroying document claims to be protecting Kenyan women.

Histories of domination are full of men saving women: white men saving brown women from brown men; white men saving African women from African men; white men saving indigenous women from indigenous men; white men saving native women from native men; white women joining white men in saving non-white women.

Kenyan women face an impossible choice: freedom or safety?

This is always a false choice—a killing choice.
*
Kenya’s solicitor general is correct: no truly ethical model of freedom based on expanding and extending freedom can be imagined by the Kenyan state.

15. The Penal Code is amended by inserting the following new section immediately after section 66─

66A. A person who publishes or causes to be published or distributed obscene, gory or offensive material which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the general public or disturb public peace is guilty of a felony and is liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding one million shillings or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both, or, where the offence is committed by a media enterprise, to a fine not exceeding five million shillings.

*
One looks at the National Police Service Act (2011) to find the police don’t share the rights and freedoms guaranteed to every Kenyan in the constitution.

47. Limitation of rights and fundamental freedoms of police officers

(1) Subject to Article 24, 25 and 35 of the Constitution, the rights and fundamental freedoms of an officer of the Service may be limited for the purposes, in the manner and to the extent set out by law.

(2) A limitation of a right or fundamental freedom under subsection (1) shall be reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom and shall be limited only for purposes of ensuring—

(a) the protection of classified information;
(b) the maintenance and preservation of national security;
(c) the security and safety of officers of the Service;
(d) the independence and integrity of the Service; and
(e) the enjoyment of the rights and fundamental freedoms by any individual does not prejudice the rights and fundamental freedoms of others.

(3) A limitation of a right or fundamental freedom under this section shall relate to—

(a) the right to privacy to the extent of allowing—
(i) a person, home or property to be searched;
(ii) possessions to be seized;
(iii) information relating to a person’s family or private affairs to be required or revealed; or
(iv) the privacy of a person’s communications to be investigated;

(b) the freedom of expression to the extent of limiting the freedom to impart information for officers of the Service;

(c) the freedom of the media;

(d) the right to access to information to the extent of protecting the Service from—
(i) demands to furnish persons with information; and
(ii) publicizing information affecting the nation;

(e) the freedom of association to the extent of limiting the right of officers of the Service from joining or participating in the activities of any kind of association other than those authorized under this Act;

(f) the right to assemble, demonstrate, picket and petition public authorities to the extent of ensuring discipline in the Service; and

(g) the right to fair labour relations to the extent of prohibiting officers of the Service from joining and participating in the activities of a trade union and going on strike.

(4) An officer shall not be barred from voting at any election if, under the laws governing the said election, he or she has a right to vote.

Those who claim Kenya is being turned into a “police state” are more accurate than they know.
*
A law is proposed: it says the police cannot be questioned, the state cannot be questioned, the president cannot be questioned. It seeks control over digital communication. It pursues the “right” to prosecute those on digital media.

It expands fines:

3. Section 3 of the Public Order Act is amended—
(a) in subsection (1) by deleting the words “one thousand shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months” and substituting therefor the term “one hundred thousand shillings or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years”

7. Section 8 of the Public Order Act is amended—
(c) in subsection (6) by deleting the term “one thousand” and substituting therefor the term “ten thousand”.

12. Section 17 of the Public Order Act is amended by deleting the term “five thousand” and substituting therefor the term “fifty thousand”.

50. Section 118 of the Traffic Act is amended in subsection (2) by─
(a) deleting the words “ten thousand shillings” appearing in paragraph (a) and substituting therefor the words “one hundred thousand shillings”
*
Of the many complaints circulating about these “amendments,” I have yet to see one about the effects on refugees:

56. Section 12 of the Refugees Act is a amended by inserting the following new subsection immediately after subsection (2)—
(3) Every person who has applied for recognition of his status as a refugee and every member of his family shall remain in the designated refugee camp until the processing of their status is concluded.

57. Section 14 of the Refugees Act is amended by inserting the following new paragraph immediately after paragraph (b) —
(c) not leave the designated refugee camp without the permission of the Refugee Camp Officer.

58. The Refugees Act is amended by inserting the following new section immediately.
16A. (1) The number of refugees and asylum seekers permitted to stay in Kenya shall not exceed one hundred and fifty thousand persons.
(2) The National Assembly may vary the number of refugees or asylum seekers permitted to be in Kenya.
(3) Where the National Assembly varies the number of refugees or asylum seekers in Kenya, such a variation shall be applicable for a period not exceeding six months only.
(4) The National Assembly may review the period of variation for a further six months.

*
Freedom is to be limited:
62. The National Intelligence Service Act is amended by inserting the following new section immediately after section 6—
6A. (1) An officer of the Service may stop and detain any person whom the officer—
(a) witnesses engaging in a serious offence;
(b) finds in possession of any object or material that could be used for the commission of a serious offence; or
(c) suspects of engaging in any act or thing or being in possession of anything which poses a threat to national security.

One recalls that reading Karl Marx was once considered a serious threat to Kenyan security.
*
Revolution is made impossible to say or imagine in Kenya:

12D. A person who adopts or promotes an extreme belief system for the purpose of facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change commits an offence and is liable on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding thirty years.
*
It becomes clear that those who critique the Kenyan state are “radicals.” Dissent becomes impossible. Yet, claiming “dissent” is impossible seems out of date, old fashioned.

In our neoliberal regime, we strike deals. Some deals fail. But money will be made.

Not dissent, deal.

Deal with it. Make a deal. Deal or no deal.
*
Some are writing.

I don’t know how much longer they can write.

(The freedom-destroying state will use their writing as evidence that it permits freedom of expression)

Deal time.
*
Freedom: a signifier trapped somewhere between the development imaginary and the security imaginary

Others pursue a different freedom: life-enhancing, possibility-multiplying, human-respecting, dignity-promoting, and world-sharing.

on care & repair

I am reading Veena Das’s Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary, which is about how women get by and make do, how women “pick up the pieces” and “live” in “the very place of devastation.” Pushing against rhetorics of “transcending” or “overcoming,” Das foregrounds what she calls “the descent into the ordinary”: how violence and devastation continue to live around us, in us, as us, as we try to continue living. That “us” is a particular co-opting, but I hope not a completely unethical one.

Myths, legends, fiction, poetry, travel narratives, biographies, autobiographies—the genres that shape our worlds have tended to focus on men who move. The quest narrative focuses on men. With few exceptions, stories of migration focus on men. Stories of adventure focus on men.

Men leave. Women stay.

Or, men abduct women, displace them, and then leave them. The scene always features men leaving and women staying, whether in safe homes or broken homes, safe cities or unsafe cities, safe states or unsafe states.

Women stay to build and rebuild.

Women stay, Nalo Hopkinson teaches me, to plant food and to dispense medicine, to imagine that there might be something worth saving amidst devastation.

Women stay, I learn from those around me, as men run away from their parental responsibilities, proud to sire children, unwilling to provide the emotional and material resources those children need to thrive.

Women stay, as Das writes, to take care of the sick, to wash dead bodies, to provide emotional sanctuary:

I take her foot between my hands
Ben, shall I cut your toenails?

I do one each day. It’s too hard
to bend over longer than that.
We came into this world
with just our bodies
and even those
we’ll have to leave
when we go

–Shailja Patel, Migritude

In a matatu the other day
A little girl of three or four
sat on my lap uninvited, hesitant, at first,
as if to test my reaction.
When none was forthcoming
she made herself more at home.
I marvelled at such confidence –
the world must be such a safe place to her.
Another child in tow, her mom sat next to me
saying nothing.
looking tired to the bone.
–Phyllis Muthoni, Lilac Uprising

What does it mean for a daughter to changer her mother’s wet diaper, to feed her through a tube, or wash her hair because she can’t herself?
–Rasna Warah, Red Soil and Roasted Maize
*
Men, I have found, announce their departures, make a fuss over leaving, demand attention. Women, I have seen, often leave quietly. Consider the banal scene of a man and woman hosting guests: the dishes that appear on the table, as if by magic, as the man chats and laughs; the dishes that are cleaned up afterwards, as if by magic, as the man rests because hosting is tiring.

Consider the equally banal scene of a husband or male partner bringing home unexpected guests because his wife or female partner is a “whiz in the kitchen” and “can whip something up easily.” Consider the labor unaccounted for in such scenarios: planning for surprise guests, catering to them, cleaning up after them.
*
I am reminded about care and repair through my own carelessness.

Perhaps it was an over-enthusiastic dog’s tail. Perhaps it was a passing human’s carelessness. Or a monkey chasing after hidden fruit. The plant’s stem was broken. I imagined that it would wither away, mourning what it never had a chance to be. A few weeks later, the stem had repaired itself. The plant was now crooked, angled as in a drawing by a mediocre cubist. The break had become a knot, a story to be handed down to future leaves. A small miracle of repair.

An unseen hand wraps saran wrap on a broken stem, coaxes growing to persist.

This unquiet demands a repair imagination, an imagination attuned to growth, an imagination that, amidst the devastation, can pursue freedom.

I keep thinking about those many unseen hands wrapping repair around broken limbs, repair around broken relationships, repair around broken possibilities. Trying to coax something to persist.

This work of staying and staying with.
*
A lot of time is needed to accept that trees planted in this land of sorrows have been able to bear fruit.—Veronique Tadjo, The Shadow of Imana

She is going to visit her mother in prison. She takers clothes, soap, a little food. The old woman is among the crowd of other prisoners. She cannot get close to her, touch her. They speak at a distance. The distance separating them is too great. She raises her voice to make herself heard, tries to make her emotion felt above the general din, the despair. But the words vanish into the tide of jostling bodies.

She no longer recognizes her mother on the other side of the invisible barrier, this broken damaged woman who looks like nothing.—Veronique Tadjo, The Shadow Of Imana
*
He wants to free his spirit from the enormous burden of his flight.—Veronique Tadjo, The Shadow of Imana
*
I am thinking about women who arrive early and stay late. Women who set up and clean up. The untime they occupy—the time before the event, whatever it is, and the time after the event. Multiply that untime. Stretch it from then to forever. And then stretch it again.
*
Octavia Butler writes about women who stay to care and repair.
Yvonne Owuor writes about women who return to care and repair.
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Perhaps Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” is really titled “The Men Who Walk Away from Omelas”
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I write this amid news that children are being killed in Peshawar.