The day we ran into Anthony Bourdain….(albeit with some reservations)

munira's bubble

….was the day Israel began to bomb the hell out of Lebanon in earnest, in July 2006.

Huz was on a ‘mission’, and Amu and I tagged along as I was very eager to see what all the fuss was about as far as Beirut was concerned, ‘Paris of the East’ and all that jazz. Not to mention the taouk sandwiches that Huz raved about from the last couple of times he’d been there.

Needless to say, I fell in love with the place, and most of all, the people. The Lebanese are just gorgeous if you ask me. Beautifully skinned, beautifully dressed (skimpy for women for a country in the Middle East, I thought) and I loved the way they spoke Arabic…and French. Hearing my own name being pronounced by an Arabic speaker was pure pleasure, and considering I wear my heart on my sleeve, I merrily proceeded to…

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Pragmatic-authoritarian II: throwback to Dakar/Senegal, 2007

Yesterday, an old university friend, Saqib, asked me if I would join him and another friend for a trip to Senegal. In reply I narrated the travails of my 2007 visit there while making sure that none of the enthusiasm is dampened.

Incidentally, Senegal was put by Eqbal Ahmed under the same category as Cameroon, i.e., pragmatic-authoritarian (in his research paper that I covered in my last post). Interesting too, that the regime covered by Ahmed is that of Léopold Sédar Senghor who was a poet! So I read him and a few more Senegalese poets from a collection of African poems and came up with the following poem:

I ask of the dream     song     unfettered
promise as it rained night     rained night as
as you dared to sing     your warrior
song     wounded     worded as wound     what
then of the sword     forgot to sheathe
forgot the hearth of song? I ask
of the dream     song     unfettered night.

Here is what I messaged (verbatim):

To say that getting a visa to Senegal on a Pakistani passport is difficult is an understatement. I tried to get one in Togo in 2007. The officer at the consulate said he could stamp a visa right there, but since I was from Pakistan, it would have to go through a security check. After some time, I got the clearance, and then I used that clearance number to apply for the visa in Gambia. I got the visa. When I reached Dakar, I was not allowed entry on that visa saying it was not valid. They kept my passport and allowed me to leave the airport only because I was accompanied by two goras and after speaking with someone from the ministry. Next morning, after receiving a letter from the ministry, they gave me back my passport. When I was waiting at the airport, a guy from Bangladesh told me nobody comes to Senegal on a Pakistani passport (they either use Canadian/Australian/American etc. passports to come to Senegal). I figured either because of drugs or illegal crossing over by sea. That said, I found Dakar to be quite electric. The captivating music is a giveaway to something stirring. It has been the shadiest African city I have been to. And hence closest in comparison to Karachi. We were mugged the last night we were there, but my colleague caught the guy and took him to the police station; a lady was in charge; she prayed her isha while we waited in the room. Couldn’t catch the conversation as it was all in French… so I wouldn’t be able to come, but you guys will definitely find it very very interesting.

Saqib then asked me why wasn’t the above a blog post. So I posted this as a sequel to my last one emphasizing the continuity on West African and Eqbal Ahmed’s pragmatic-authoritarian themes. Of course, this post is memory from way back in 2007 unlike the Yaoundé one which snapshots fresh impressions from last week. Saqib is an author/filmmaker. His debut book, The Warehouse was published last year.


PS: I realize that it was in 2008 and not 2007. Instead of changing the year in the text and title, I will let it be, a reminder of how memory stands in relation to fact.

Yaoundé by May

A short 5 day work trip to Yaoundé, Cameroon.  This was my first central African state so I was curious as to what is common and what sets it apart from the 9 others I have visited since 2002 starting with Ghana, my most frequented African state.

– attendant in bakery: you are from China?

– bureaucrat in his office, after I get his last name right on first attempt: I am surprised you can pronounce my name; most people get it wrong. Me: if the name is in your local language, I will get it right.

Not speaking French was a handicap    also a source of amusement for the women working in the bakery.

what is common: the quintessential African green    the booming laugh    the roadside stall    mud    old cars    70s architecture    at ease with unlit spaces
what sets it apart: too bureaucratic    policewomen at breakfast

I wrote my last post while in Yaoundé, and just before leaving the hotel room wrote this:

need of the forest    burn
of the

ashen past    will    wilnot
the bread

of fury and tread of summer
these are

kind, various, available as
pastime

To get some background, there have been two presidents since independence in 1962. The current one is in power since 1982. This bit of information alone might go some way in explaining the high bureaucratization and security. The late Eqbal Ahmed in his 1980 paper, “Post colonial systems of power” (which I visualized here), categorized Cameroon then as pragmatic-authoritarian. This is how he defines pragmatic-authoritarian:

This highly personalized system of power enjoys a certain legitimacy and the support of significant sections of the population by virtue of the historical nationalist credentials of the leader.

Two noteworthy characteristics: these deeply pro-Western regimes tend to prefer strong political, economic and cultural ties with the ex-colonial metropolis rather than the United States. The strength of the armed forces remains circumscribed and, in comparison with civilians, military officers are assigned lower status in the official hierarchy.

tourism

i) flecks of the improbable, seen
in the nonsense

light of expectation ii) tripping
solemn, light,

as if crusted day is slave to the
roving eye

iii) so many statuettes of hope,
so little time

iv) we shall agree to meet half
way and then let

time absolve us from ever having to
remember v) the

having of the needless eye needled
into extravagance

vi) spools of nervous laughter asking
more from less

vii, viii, ix) the cathedraled temple,
spectacled toyness,

dry embrace of the relicced other.

Notes from Monrovia – II

An unverified lock, at
Peace with the key of dawn, at sea, at
Tentive

To

   War as it unravels
       as it un

Derstands nothing, at
Sea;
                   the argument rolls out
                                rolls   t
Oo another seemingly benign tap
                            tap
                            tap.

Aug 25, 2016
Fresh out of a family trip to Malaysia, after taking in the expansive green, I was struck by the unapologetic African green on my hour long drive from Monrovia’s airport to the city proper. But proper it wasn’t in so many ways. The lush green of humanity that underlies all earth has its peculiar infringement here: the stark signs of an unasked for ‘development’; the fancy NGO cars contrasted with mostly older local ones; the few good expat-catering restaurants with security guards and the others unguarded, catering to locals; the expensive everything in a poor poor city.

In the sense of following two different trajectories of neoliberal development, Liberia is similar to Malaysia, only on the opposite ends of well-being; the one being a model for the other. While Malaysian greenery is being tamed to showcase exotic development, the rawness of African green has yet to be tamed; always a reminder that something more powerful lurks below the sheen that is currently being desperately aimed for.


Undone by what I admire, the in
Most anchor, the

Brass measure of all that is bold,
Is crass, is class,

The feed of foul and its brethren of
Impure, the brew

And vole that burrows each hold on
Touch and bruise.

Sep 6, 2016
Left Monrovia three days ago and came back home yesterday. Since the first impression I wrote above, I spoke with the people I worked with, getting their take on the history of Liberia and their take alone (deliberately avoiding reading up online), and this is what I got.

In the 1820s, freed American slaves (Americo-Liberians) started colonizing a number of African states including Liberia and Sierra Leone under the organizing umbrella of a religious organization, the American colonization society. By 1847, the Americo-Liberians, who had pretty much taken over the country, freed themselves of the yoke of the controlling church. This is what is referred to as Liberian Independence. More than a hundred years of being under the Americo-Liberians, the 1970s saw two favorable rulers in the 1960s and 70s in terms of having an inclusive stance towards the indigenous Liberians, especially William Tolbert who ruled from 1971 till he was executed by the ‘accidental’ indigenous military coup-leader, William Doe, in 1980. During the ten years of Doe’s rule, the Americo-Liberians tried this way and that to remove him after which the horrible civil war began in 1989, and Doe was removed by execution in 1990. Charles Taylor entered the fray during this period. In 2003, war finally ended and after a series of interim governments, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president in 2006 and still rules.


That poet, he don’t do justice; does
Artful thought, renaissance

Crumble on a peach souffle, does heart;
don’t do justice; does wire

frame necessity capturing mouthful of
soul, prancing about the

hoary precipices of Saturn’s myth; don’t
do justice; peachy pie – chalk;

Notes from Monrovia – I

These are some wordspills from the last few days in Monrovia, Liberia. More detail, perhaps even more clarity, to follow.

I

So you have the sense of a
   long now, the perhaps of               a fire, a
                         Truce, axiomatic

Burn, the cut of a thousand
      the but of another
      sense of another
      calm of 

Tooth, axe,
       postulate of norm
       pestilence   harm of your unknowns

II

the pin of an inconsistent
    raw
                        ness - the
                        pine of ferment its disdain
    for
    all that isindolent
             isincohate

III

The sense of being a toy or a
    hound as a new world spills - dregs of 
                                  myinkpot

Voices of the small small, Accra 2016 – IV

Before leaving for Accra, I had searched for Ghanaian poets online. When work was done, and as I was about to leave Accra, a friend took me to a couple of bookstores where I found a few books by local poets. And after coming back home, I searched online for some more. Here is a small sample of Ghana’s own voices, in verse.

I discovered Aquah Laluah (1904 – 1950) online after coming back home.

The Serving Girl

The calabash wherein she served my food
Was polished and smooth as sandalwood.
Fish, white as the foam of the sea,
Peppered and golden-fried for me.
She brought me palm wine that carelessly slips
From the sleeping palm tree’s honeyed lips.
But who can guess, or even surmise
The countless things she served with her eyes?

Here is one by a contemporary poet, Kofi Anyidoho, from one of his books, “A harvest of our dreams”, that I found in Accra.

Newspeddler

Last night newspeddler told us how
at last they picked the venom from our voice
into stainless tubes well corked with seals of state

and we will glide through life with all sorrows
transformed into beatific visions of excessive joy

so help us Dog!

And here are two from another contemporary poet, Tawia Tsekumah. His poems are almost Kabir-like in their directness. The first one is from his book that I got in Accra, “A crown for the baboon and other poems”.

Freedom

All life is but a battle
Composed of captors and captives

Mothers who hold their promising sons captive
And fathers who hold their favourite daughters captive.

Employers who hold their most hardworking staff captive
And Parsons who hold their most devout captive.

Husbands who hold their wives captive,
And wives who hold their husbands captive.

Freedom is not something you ask for - just take it.
And fight with all your strength to protect it.

Better to be free and hungry,
Than to be well fed all your life in a cage.

And this one I picked up online:

The World Mirrors Like A Calm River

My good friend,
I can't keep sugar-coating this anymore:
You are the world,
And the world is you,
If you deceive the world,
You deceive yourself,
Your world is you,
And you are your world.
The whole world mirrors like a calm river. 

I end with the last couple of poems I wrote before leaving Accra.
May 27

The history of words, of private
Worlds standing in communion

With the worry of dawn & the
Flight of joy, the semblance of

Meter & the line of hate, the
Past as prejudice & a little

Late; the history of verb
As it acts on pawns of being

Known; the history of you and
What is not you given as the

Word splits infinity.
The Obroni's burden
is a heap of cheap dyes;
wool cast in the lead of
black wounds; overcast sky
and underrated wish; the
burden is a
          sin; an acknowledgement
of a woman waning
   a son wanting
   a rite repeating
   in vain.