What if your favourite verses in Holy Books that deal with men and women in fact mean the masculine and the feminine, aspects of psyche that all men and all women each have in degree? I’m reading on Shams of Tabriz and Rumi and this has just slapped me.
I mean “Men are the maintainers of women because Allah has made some of them to excel above others … good women are therefore obedient…” and “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man…” etc.
Sham of Tabriz’s plausible Sufi interpretation grants the possibility of complementarity between genders, for men and women thus mirror each other, are men or women only by the degree of masculinity or feminity they have. Also makes each person more whole. I think so. You nko?
When a tragedy like the one in New Zealand happens, I prefer to share the stories of solidarity and humanity. Of the man standing outside a mosque while Muslims pray though he knows a bullet can get him just as well, but felt that the gesture was necessary. Of the female politician who, in solidarity with the victims, identified with them by wearing a hijab and by refusing to speak the name of a murderer and terrorist. Of Jews, straight from their own massacre in Pittsburgh, making solidarity with another community of faith in their own time of grief. I share these because I know the stories that can save us and I know the stories that will destroy us.
Am I naive? Maybe. But my faculties will not share the call by scavenging terrorists for avenging the acts of their brother terrorist with whom i see no difference in quality or degree of hate. I will not share coverage that humanises the perpetrator of a hateful crime nor his smirking pose in a courtroom.
It’s not like I do not know about differences and how valid, potent and explosive they can be. I do. But I like to think of the moment before difference sets in, and in the gestures I refuse to make, because I reject the reality they entrench, I reclaim the quality of that penultimate space of calm. It is possible that I am naive. But it is true that also I hope this naivete might show the world it yet can save itself from the peril of terror and those who vend it, regardless of who they are and what creed they pretend to.
I wish the Nigerian elite (and their children, beneficiaries and clients) would learn a lesson from the killing of Chief Badeh. Public trust, routinely abused, feeds mass disaffection and portends personal danger.
To be unable to sympathize when a man is dead because you live in the context of his failures (as I do) when he lived is a terrible, terrible thing. It saddens me greatly. This is where I’m at now.
Posterity has got to mean something. All we all have is a small spot of earth in Nigeria, and what we did while we lived. Badeh, while he lived, did things that we must not forget, which killed so many promising young soldiers and made us, as citizens of this nation, less safe.
How does his having been an excellent pilot of foreign dignitaries stack up against his disastrous tenure as Air and Defence Chief, the effects of which national disaster continue?
I will not share an image of him slumped and shot up in the street. From basic dignity, mine.
But I wish I knew the name of his driver, to sympathize with him and his family. The driver has more in common with me than Badeh ever did. The driver is us, victims of several levels of oppression and abuse, depersonalized in death.
The eponymous Charles is Charles Agwok, the northern Ugandan
protagonist of Joel Hirst’s latest novel. He is of the Acholi ethnic
nationality. For those even mildly familiar with the recent geo-politics and
history of East Africa, these key words—Acholi, Ugandan—furnish a third, the
LRA. The LRA, which stands for the Lord’s Resistance Army, is a fundamentalist Christian
guerilla militia that has been fighting against the present Museveni regime
since the late 80’s. It is led by the elusive Joseph Kony and seeks a Uganda
governed by the Ten Commandments. Untold horrors, from rape to child soldiers
to the use of girls as sex slaves to terrorism, have been left in the wake of
its every entanglement with Ugandan forces.
The novel, told in the first person, is a peculiar coming
of age story seeking to set out and engage the realities of recent Ugandan history
through personal narrative. It starts with Charles in one of the camps and
traces his career from camp hustler to petty criminal to Kampala underworld
enforcer to being a commander in the LRA, in his thirties, with the nom de
guerre Okot. At the end of the novel though, he is in another camp, this time an
old man, this time somewhere in Tanzania where he now has a wife and children
who know nothing of his earlier life. Charles has, by the end of the novel,
obliterated his own brutal history except for the novel which is, in truth, a
confession and an attempt to justify his life against his times.
When dreary conditions at the camp he’s lived in see him
seize the opportunity to steal a stash of cash from a foreign-run NGO in the
camp, his naiveté and the imminent betrayal of his confederate force him to flee,
even though he knows his father will be in a lot of trouble for this. The clear
eye of Joel Hirst for details shines from these very early pages of the book,
in the creation of a visual and emotive panorama of the web of despondency of
youth in IDP camps, corruption of camp officials and the often hypocritical objectives
and practice of camp NGOs. Our protagonist, who is not the hero of this tale,
hightails it to Kampala where he first befriends a dog. As he makes a reputation
for himself in the Kampala underworld, he meets the love of his life, Ruth, a
girl from elite circles whom he seduces. Fate, and jealousy, sees him murdering
Ruth’s lover during a shakedown. The inevitable flight away from Kampala and what
the law in the hands of the powerful can do to him lands him in the arms of the
LRA. A precocious character who reads books and is fascinated by the written word,
his innate violence sees him continue on the path of evil already set upon in
Kampala. By the end of his time in the LRA, there is no textbook crime of the stereotype
“savage African” trope he has not committed.
The issue of stereotype casts a heavy pall on this book
and, I admit, in the very first few pages I was put off by the self-loathing of
Charles and his denigration of his being African and ruing the terrible luck of
living in an African camp, emphasis African. This continues through the
book, with highly relevant conversations, as recollected by Charles, framed
through this negative imaginary of what it is to be African. Yet, Africa is not
a country. It is 54 plus countries on one island and in each of these
countries, there are hundreds of thousands of African narratives just as authentic
as Charles’. Even within his own Uganda, even within his own camp, alternative
Africas exist. The preponderance of these alternative Africas are not cliché terrible
and savage and brutal as this protagonist would have us think he believes. As a
character trait, Charles self-loathing is unconvincing and to the extent that
this book is his attempt to gain emmpathy, by deploying the device of telling
his story in which he is a victim of circumstance and then asking “what would
you have done different” it fails. At every pivotal point in the downward spiral
of this life, alternative choices could have been made. An example of the
earliest: if he knew that a place like Kampala existed, he did not need to go
there only after stealing from an NGO and being on the verge of capture. There
were no gates to the IDP camp, it was not a concentration camp. He, and all
there, could leave at any time. Africa played no role in his not leaving or
making different choices.
When we step out of the novel, questions arise about the
underlying narrative. The story is very contemporary. Joseph Kony is still on
the loose though his LRA is no longer considered a serious security threat to
regional stability. Yoweri Museveni has remained in power in Uganda since 1986 and,
remarkably through the device of fortuitously discovered birth documents, is in
fact growing younger. Prior to Kony and Museveni, there was Idi Amin, a
textbook and quite perfectly mad military dictator of the African variety who
took power from Milton Obote who had, in fact, led Uganda to independence. The
history of Uganda has been so unstable because of the British divide-and-rule
that created and emphasized ethnic suspicion competition in Uganda, and, after
Independence, the geopolitics of the Cold War both of which are well out of the
hands of any Ugandan or African. Yet, it is these two factors that bear direct
causality to Charles Agwok being in a camp in the first place. Nowhere is this context
given, or even understood, in I, Charles, from the Camps. A refugee camp
does not just appear out of thin air. It is an effect of other things. In the
exclusion of these ultimate causalities lies my main query with this book.
Nonetheless, as stated earlier, Joel Hirst is able to do
a marvelous job of stepping into the mind of a flawed character in his brave
use of first person narration. Very rarely do we find instances of authorial
intrusion. On the contrary, character-specific observation is acute and very
well developed. There is a kernel of greatness in this book and I found myself
wanting more, wishing to know more of the story from the point of view of the
other characters consigned to bit parts by Charles Agwok. Ruth, for example, who
loved him, who comes across as two-dimensional, and Friedrich as well, who “saves”
him twice. I would have liked to know what happened to his family after he fled
the camp the first time, and what happened to his dog after he had to abandon
it in Kampala.
The first person is an excellent narrative choice which
is difficult to pull off, but it is testimony to Joel Hirst’s ability that we
want to know more about the supporting characters in the tragic story of
Charles Agwok, Ugandan, African, anti-hero and would be reframer of his own brutal
history. In achieving this, congratulations are due to Mr. Hirst.
Miami, Florida is not called the Sunshine State for nothing. One of the stops of the #IVLP to study the US midterms election process was at this city, read about it HERE. In this post, I’ll try to capture the sheer colour of the city (and a guy riding a unicycle) in images.
Lunch was at the Willard Hotel, hosted by the State Department. The lobby of the Willard is where, legend has it, political lobbying was invented. The Willard is where the Washington elite goes to have lunch, be seen, and in the case of a famous president, smoke his cigars.
Rest of yesterday was spent at Georgetown University for the Federalism briefing #IVLP. It was given by Professor Anne Marie Cammisa and we explored American democracy and character. The post briefing engagement was very lively.
Later in the evening, I walked around Georgetown, found Bridge Street bookstore on Pennsylvania Ave. and left laden with books. Ended with dinner, fried rice at Charm Thai, Washington DC.
Earlier in the day at the Introductory session
In front of the Willard hotel – Will the Democrats win the majority in the midterms, or will the Republicans maintain it?
Who’s this guy?
At the Bridge Street bookstore along Pennsylvania Ave.