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;

The subaltern is credible – Vientiane, Laos Feb 2016

Work took me to Vientiane, Laos, recently (the last week of February 2016). In mid 2013, I had written a first impression piece on Muscat. This time, I thought of writing one with a power critique informing the first time visitor.

The external oppression – context
The local news was abuzz with renewed US business-related activity (Obama is coming in September) as Laos takes over the chairmanship of ASEAN this year. Although a communist country since 1975, Laos has no qualms in opening itself up to the wondrous creed of the neoliberal. A Thai consultant remarked that about 15 years ago, all he could see on the streets of Vientiane were the tuk-tuks, but now you see cars and motorbikes all over the place. Increasing Chinese foreign investment is making Vietnam, a long time Laotian benefactor, edgy. Hence the surge in US pivot-al interest. There is even talk of the US taking some responsibility in cleaning up the unexploded bombs – two million tons dropped during the secret war of 1964-73, the most heavily bombed per capita nation ever. How power revels in the forgetfulness of the powerless!

The embedded oppressor – subtext
I work with government departments (statistics and IT) in mostly African and Middle Eastern states. Strengthening the public sector – where providing service to people is part of the mandate by definition – is the only redemption for a consultant who sensibilities have been blighted; otherwise the larger aims of the agencies we work for either dovetail with the neoliberal program, or at the very least never challenged.

A salient fact, not highlighted enough, is that despite the high capability of local staff (esp. here in Laos where at the IT department of the ministry I learned a few new things from the staff), the dependence on the external, international consultant subordinates and even mutes the local voice. When I ask about their requirements, the response is something along the lines of, “what do you think?”

The international consultant is thus a modern iteration of the white saviour, and this realization, that our work is part of the oppressive fabric, is an uncomfortable one.

Government folk tend to be much more open to outsiders than given credit for. This is true wherever I have been, and Laos is no exception. On top of that, you get the much publicized mildness – however much of a tourist cliché – of the East Asian. This bit of humanity is consolation in face of the thin redemptive possibilities and uncomfortable truths that hound the work of a development consultant.

The subaltern is credible – text

The subaltern is credible
   with salt in its teeth

with humor in the tummy of
   its riverside birth its

calm solubility and harmless
   want is weak is water is

standing with the whalemouth
   reeking of the hull and

counterpoint will it will?

The token pic
I took this one on the first day as I was walking by the Mekong river taking in the novelty. The kids clicked here betray none of the famed docility. The tropes of the past stand once again to be revised.
DSC01401

the frock of time

In elementary school we are presented the table of elements. Once Democritus had postulated the atom, it became a logical imperative for those that followed to reduce nature to a fixed set of elements. Some went further and broke the atom down so much so that very little remained except dark space. Democracy, in a twisted but popular neoliberal interpretation, allows us to counter this darkness by postulating the freedom of choice to buy anything. This leads to what is called atomization, a skewed tribute to Democritus.

Slew of tar, bromide in
Anticipation, grime of the

Feather’s hurt: an admonition,
A reckoning of two and a half

Yesterdays; the frock of time
Kindly braying a tick, the

Fish in anticipation, a flower
Demanding the forest to bare.

When it clicked

This is a different post. /The Rules, an activist organization “pushing the global narrative in a new direction”, has recently started a “When it clicked” series of “stories from people working within the ‘international development’ sector who want to share their experience of challenging the dominant narrative around poverty and development, how it felt and why it’s important to question”. I felt compelled to share my story, and here it is: “When it clicked: I chanced upon a series of eye-opening discussions on social justice with a friend”.

My poems tend to get a little abstract at times. Sometimes I anchor them with a reference, but mostly they tend to float. The post above should provide some context.

 

neoliberal

the theoliberal dust will settle in time
not before befuddling hearts, sinking

minds, coalescing goodwill into mush and
repeating mulch from a petrified storybook

few cared would matter, but it did, and it
stored dark endings as a matter of tact.

the geoliberal must settle longitudinal
accounts with the attitude of frost, and

give; give two hoots: one for the glib
necessity overtaking root of money, another

for the system of dies that are stamped
when limp currency trots out of fashion.

Ex.ploit/Em.power

Ex-

– tract: land to be isolated, titled, massaged, pulverized for maximal maximality.

– pert: momentary flush of hormonal zest in an otherwise untidy emotional jungle.

– hume: portly thinker whose popping off in 1776 coincided roughly with the industrial revolution; sceptical for good reason.

Em-

– pire: French for the worst.

– battle: proof of the efficacy of slaughter.

– bitter: after-taste of 2.5 centuries of kool-aid.