Things that are dead make the most noise.
I realise this as I try to walk through a garden. It’s the live things that you will step on with no sound, or minimal sounds. Dead things creak, bend, protest, demand to be heard, acknowledged. Perhaps it is because, being dead, there is nothing to fear. Perhaps it is because, being dead, breaking is reaching into the world.
On Saturday, armed men attacked protesters with bows, arrows and pangas. As at the writing of this piece it is not clear whether they will be charged with anything – even though people are hospitalized with varied levels of wounding.
A friend of mine tells me about when Nairobi was invaded by locusts. Once they died their bodies littered the streets and the crunching underfoot was, literally, the sound of dead bodies breaking.
I hear dead bodies breaking.
All around the country I see dead bodies protesting. I see something that has died inside us being stepped on. And it is making a sound. You can hear it in the president wanting his own army. You can hear it in the Saba Saba talks. You can hear it in the silencing of protests with bows and arrows, and in #KasaraniConcentrationCamp still being used, and blatant lies from the government saying it has been closed.
It’s hard to put a finger on the thing that died within us. Somewhere between the corruption and ethnopatriarchal nonesense, something inside us died to numb us to the world around. Somewhere, it became a race to break bodies, make money and go.
But how many bodies do we have to break before we realise that this model isn’t sustainable?
A few weeks ago I sat down to have a meal with two friends. Invariably, as conversations always do, we ended up discussing politics. Particularly about how the system here is designed so that a few individuals can reap maximum returns. While we agreed on the facts, it was clear that they had an admiration for this. “Look at how much money he made, though!” were statements made with awe. My pleas about how many bodies that had to break to pave a path for this wealth were not heard. And, when heard, were shrugged off.
I return to Sara Ahmed:
“Think of when a twig snaps. We might hear that snap as an origin of a movement, as the beginning of violence, because we don’t notice the pressure on the twig. A feminist understanding of power attends to what I called in The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004), “a history of reaction,” a history that tends to be erased, of bodies that are pressed, contorted, reduced, by what they come up against.
A snap is not a starting point.
She snaps; it shatters.”
I think of how long the breaking of Mpeketoni has been happening. I think of the countless times the residents have been told to have faith in the security agencies and the freshness of the wound every time they are failed. In the survivor’s heart, dead bodies break. Dead bodies protest.
A part of me revolts against writing this piece. There’s an insistence needed. I’ve written about this before. Something of this place demands that I write it differently and the words escape me.
Is this what breaking feels like?
The road to the military state is paved with broken bodies.
In Jima village pillagers stop to harvest maize before they move on.
“Security has been beefed up.”
Again we are reassured that the country is safe. Something else dies inside us. Soon, even the suffering we hear of becomes that – things we hear. Like birds in the morning and traffic at lunch time. Suffering becomes a part of the daily news. A part of the background noise.
Soon, even that disappears. Stories move from the lead to page 6. Then slowly they find themselves in a little corner in the lifestyle magazines.
Think about a glass. You might be washing a glass one day and you notice a crack. So you get angry. “Who cracked my glass?!” Soon, though, it becomes less important. The glass becomes the glass with a crack. Every now and then you take notice that the crack is getting bigger but you don’t really say/do anything. Eventually the glass just comes to pieces in your hand and you’re furious.
But the glass is already broken. And every time someone steps on it, or even tries to sweep it away, it rubs against itself. Reminding us that it is broken.
Every time we try to move our histories they rub against us. Reminding us that something is broken. Reminding us that something has died.
Judith Butler writes:
“Ungrievable lives are those that cannot be lost, and cannot be destroyed, because they already inhabit a lost and destroyed zone; they are, ontologically, and from the start, already lost and destroyed, which means that when they are lost and destroyed in war, nothing is destroyed.”
These ungrievable bodies are grieving. We do not know their names, but we know who they are. They are five suspected gangsters. They are a lady, walking back home one evening. They are a group of men, huddled around a radio listening to a football game. They are farm-helps tilling the land. They are mothers, weaving. They are being trampled underfoot – and we hear their bodies crunching.
What are we going to do about it?
“You cannot see it
but the jacaranda trees are flowering
each blossom an insurgent
against the sameness of life
Soon the streets will be a revolution of colour
suffused with a tangible tenderness
Fight, grandma, fight
It’s worth the struggle
to witness next season’s lilac uprising.”
– Phyllis Muthoni
(quoted from Still Life #2 by WM)