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…

View original post 1,562 more words

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.

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;

The big man and the small small, Accra 2016 – III

(The first two posts on my recent Accra visit are here and here.)

Kwame Nkrumah was the nationalist leader who led Ghana to independence in 1957 and went on to serve as prime minister and president until he was ousted in a military coup in 1966. That was fifty years ago. I tried to bring him up in a few conversations, and the one that sticks out is one in which the great leader – and Nkrumah is the Ghanaian archetype – is extolled over ordinary people, for what do people want except to “eat and sleep!” (quoted by a Ghanaian colleague who also proclaimed, “one great man is worth a thousand ordinary people.”)

I couldn’t disagree more.

I tried to bring in Eduardo Galeano‘s words to counter this elitist search for a saviour, but to no avail. Here is Galeano on the topic:
“You and I are educated and we know the world. We are in many ways what they call the leaders. And leaders must serve their people. No matter how tough our lives are, we are not victims. Those who are suffering are the robbed, poor, uneducated people. They have to decide whether and when to take up arms and go: they, not we. If and when they decide to fight, we have to obey and lead them. Whether they will fight or not is not up to us to decide.”

May 23

To say again the all; the singe
Of song; to cry again the wary
Wail and the army's ail; the
Bemoaned are the joyous, but
They will not carve out an 
Evolutionary niche in the
Political economy of a tired
Literature and burnt poetry.

Orientalizing the small small, Accra 2016 – II

(This is the second of a series of posts on my visit to Accra, Ghana, in May 2016. The first one, introduced the sense of the small small.)

Edward Said‘s Orientalism is one of those books I have been slow reading over the years, esp. on trips where I get very little time to browse the net. The gist of Orientalism is the humiliating Othering of the conquered that provided the primary justification for colonial rule. Failure to take that into account in mainstream discourse today plays out as continued internalization of the white man’s burden by both the oppressor and the oppressed, albeit in politically correct flavors.

May 19

I will run to the carrion
   of the small justice, to

The fight that lulls the bird
   and stuns the sky; I will

Burn the carrion of a 
   smaller fire, a river

That behaves only in periodic
   humiliations; we burn thus.

May 21

The structure of fear as
   it embeds itself; its

Embers as they crown an
   uncertain glory that is

Affect, distance, porous; the
   shred of an uneven

Discourse.

My work in Accra involves collection of prices from markets. I visited the local Makola market in Accra – I was told the the largest in Ghana – with the price collection team.

Click on the Wikipedia link on Makola above, and you will find another Orientalist gem. A short introduction, but it is felt necessary to mention Anthony Bourdain’s visit to the market thus: “during the episode, Tony walked through the market, where he sampled local wares and enjoyed a condensed milk-toffee drink made with local herbs.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The sum of all prices is one;
The price as an asymptote
Of value; the value of all
Being is one; that of sweat
And the hum of the market,
The flailing economy of an
Unreason; that which is not one.

Eventually little remains of the local market that is not tied to the larger, more efficient, global market. And there’s the rub.

The weep is an ancient want
    Cry; an insoluble

To want to cry; the deep;
    The fallible ineffable

Articulated by an effable
    Other; the dark; the

Solder in its burn to
    Weld and weld the red.

Revisiting the small small, Accra 2016 – I

This is the first of series of posts to follow up on my recent visit to Accra, Ghana. 2008 was when I was there last, and 2002 was when Ghana introduced me to Africa. Since then, what has changed without as seen through the prism of what has changed within is written out in verse and reflection. The context has always been work, but content can change context.

May 15 – Inflight Dubai to Accra

The plumb fascination dons
   every mask, every
   trite boredom, every sink
   that wishes well, the

Plum fascination is a gasp,
   a gap of known and
   little known facts, a gap
   of missing factotums.

“Small small” is Ghanaian speak for a little quantity, small change, etc. Poetically, it captures the spirit of the Tao Te Ching, “know the high, stick to the low.” But all that has been forgotten and turned upside down historically in favor of the grand. A redemptive poetics of the small small is not possible without reaching back and bringing back to the fore the “little known facts” and the “missing factotums.”

May 16

The tailbone of the journey is far from
    Release unless you
Endear its father & soulfish its
    Ancestry; its ghoul of

Faith & train of unreason; the 
    Tailbone of your untapped
Soulwhistle is the further ash
    That trammels and pouts

As it sings, inks into the
    Untimed meter of gash
Of ink and the body of craft & pain.

A poetics of the small small is also not possible without a soulful accounting of the damage done by the patriarchal laws of entitlement and its “train of unreason” masked as faith.

May 17

The old dominion of dread is
   but half past

dead, half past the fleet of
   the unsaid, the

blue cart of a thrush's 
   unusual said, and

done and what is untrue of
   sky is true of sin,

true too of the half past
   unsung dread

the languor, the peel of
   dread and its song.

What has been damaged is felt today as dread, what Erich Fromm calls “the fear of freedom.” The machinery of sin and shame keeps that fear – though irrelevant, unrooted, out of place and time – in play.

May 18

The sin has to decide
  to drown its bellowed

Insight in the shadow
  of this here wanton

Word wanting to drift
  a broken toast, a

Wooden art and the semblance
  of a power turret

In the following posts, I will try to tackle aspects of the “power turret”, the myth of the great leader, the history of colonialism, neoliberalism and Orientalism as they relate to Ghana and as voiced by its poets.