By Alexis Teyie, Kenya
I was finally brave enough (i.e. so grieved as to convince myself I cannot possibly be further moved) to look at images from South Sudan. CAR is unpalatable, Eastern DRC I regurgitate when no one is watching. But this? It is like seeing a child you knew (a neighbour’s perhaps) grow into a self-destructive youth. We followed the pangs that marked its conception (the back and forth in Nairobi), the ripening, and the violence of its birth (as with all creativity). The crowning sparked weeping down to Cape Town; I said to someone then, we are midwives. I said, this is natural and beautiful.
Should I admit that this, too, is natural? That the violence involved in birthing insinuates itself into our very core, as a matter of fact. That there is no recourse; there is only selective application of moral rectitude. Shall I say, when a baby weeps inexplicably, rub its gums–it is growing teeth? Will I then have to confess, I fear it will consume itself; that whatever remains cannot live long suckled on the congealed blood of its mothers?
Yes, it must be natural. How else can we bear watching that little banner underneath the news broadcasting our depressing headlines across TV sets, like a shameless advert for failures we can’t possibly explain to ourselves. I have been conditioned to flinch every time my news tabs pop up on the screen: bombingcoup200deadhungerethniclinesreligioustensions; they all just meld together now. What this is, is a factory belt doling out bite-sized packages of (my) life too ugly to be placed un-ribbonned beneath some people’s Christmas trees—an industry of misery. Still, it just must be natural. Look at her neighbours: Uganda, a tween deciding who its friends are, and does it like itself?; Kenya, a teenager trying to grow into its new voice, to establish a wardrobe, an identity; Ethiopia, reticent, clamping down on growing pains; CAR, leaving and returning incessantly, how to run away from yourself?; Egypt and Libya, and their identity crises, can I love myself if I am no longer the same?
Nonetheless, I admire the latter most: After 3 years I am finally beginning to apprehend the “Arab Spring”, and via Fanon no less. So much pressure placed on these (our!) revolts, so much censure after the fact: not sustainable, not fully inclusive, not well thought out, not properly organized, not truly beneficial etc. Inasmuch as we can write/think productively about the efficiency of new media, the potency of mass movements etc., it is necessary to recognize that it was simultaneously a collective sigh and a struggle to inhale: This life, now, is unlivable, we’re tired; but we want more, we need more. Like one drowning, they grope/d for breath while waves of suffering ground them to the core. I prefer suffering, as opposed to lack(ing); to borrow a term Erik Anderson and Roland Barthes are both fond of– wound. This is more to the heart of it–more than absence. It expresses the degeneration of a limb, the slow rot of a part of you, the fact that they always scar—
This is especially true when we take into account the various arguments made after Gaddafi (RIP) was ousted: such high standards of living, oh look they have electricity (how delightful!)–all variations on the expectations placed on natives: Be grateful, say yes Baas, thank you mzee. Personally, I was not particularly impressed because they embodied various logical fallacies: slyly undercutting the credibility of citizens by patronizing them (ad hominem); standards of living rose during Gaddafi’s rule, therefore he was solely responsible, and could not possibly be a bad leader (post hoc ergo propter hoc, ignoratio elenchi); circular reasoning; moralistic fallacy; mind-projection fallacy etc. All this is to say, it is possible to appear well-fed, to be overweight even, and yet malnourished (See mal de caribou). The goal is not to consume large quantities, but rather, enough of what is necessary, what is nourishing.
Oppression compresses this yearning for nourishment (/wholeness) into a flammable mass; it begins to pulse desperately, itching to stretch atrophying limbs, to run, sometimes to dance. The power of (true) revolution, then, is its capacity to coalesce this shared need to breathe. The gesture of revolution must be the fist breaking through earth–germination, growth, reaching for light, and life.
It is not wholly inaccurate (nor sacrilegious) to compare this body-politic to the individual (not personal?) body. Why aren’t we asking why self-immolation was the preferred mode of suicide (a rejection of this life, an assertion that there must be better, that better does exist)? Why was it so effective, so moving? To see a body eaten alive by flames, to know that their insides must have been already burned out for it to come to this—can one remain unmoved? More than the internal turmoil, I am interested in the externalization of this pain, the marked exhibitionism. Setting oneself on fire, on a public street screams: Look at me! I am hurting. You cannot hide from what is implied: You are responsible. It draws you into its intricacy, and enforces a sense of reluctant community. You are both victim and voyeur. Can you see images of Bouazizi and not feel a connection with the humanness of that reaching out, that fist breaking through earth? This is Protest: lacerating and lightening.
Is it possible, then, to witness and experience the struggles in South Sudan (even if it is just clicking away on some device), and not be moved?
Alexis Teyie is part-student (Amherst College), part-dreamer and is presently working on Project 55 to archive her beloved stories from Africa.