Category: Journal

Pygmy and the Butterflies

Downtime in Baraka

Downtime in Baraka

This is my cousin, my mother’s brother’s kid, Miles “PYGMY” MacDonald. He is a hip hop flavored poet like me. We write and recite back and forth and generally share the same tastes when it comes to music, life and beer. We like music hot, life chilled and beer cold.

Pygmy on the job

Pygmy on the job

Pygmy is fluent in kiSwahili, a skill that has landed him earning dollars transporting diesel fuel from the Tanzanian border into the jungles of the DRC. This is no joke. He operates the lead vehicle in a convoy of twenty trucks, each with a capacity of around 20 000 litres of fuel. The fuel gets taken deep into the forest to a gold mine, one of many, run by some South African. Sounds simple enough until he tells you how a country that once boasted over 100 000 kilometres of servicable roads has seen that reduced to just over a couple of thousand. The rest has been reclaimed by the jungle, which means a combination of flaura and fauna together with rebel fighters engaged in a seemingly endless conflict over, well, plenty of things. Mainly it’s about who gets the right in which area to stop the convoy and demand ransom. Pygmy knows this, because he has sat down with the rebel leader and the government leader at the same time, in the same village. They weren’t negotiating. They were having a beer and a chat. These two men are cousins. Then they go off to run their respective armies.

Essentially my cousin has to be prepared for anything, from a non-existant road and a village full of people who are looking to blame the nearest “mzungu” (in SA they are calleg “mlungu” meaning “that white person”) for the lack of any serious infrastructure, or a kid in a Spider Man mask with a Rocket Launcher who is looking to be bought off with a Playboy and a packet of cigarettes. I think this is what they mean when they talk about entrepreneurship in Africa. Needless to say, my cousin can get pretty jaded at times. On the one hand he seems to be living the adventure life that plenty of us Western and “developed world” consumers crave, complete with a chimpanzee as a pet and an intense wealth of green raw tropical jungle to lose yourself in. On the other hand there is the day-to-day stuck in the mud or eyeball-down-the-barrell-of-a-gun type of regular existance that he leads.

Pygmy2

Did I mention that he is also a poet? A rapper, an MC of mean ability? Did I tell you how he is a qualified Yacht Captain, a superb fisherman, a humble human and a cheeky drunk when we have occassion to get a little loose together? All in all he is a pretty unique specimen, a genuine human being with both feet firmly on the ground, and you don’t get more grounded then Africa. There isn’t a country on this continent that doesn’t take it’s soil very seriously. Whether digging in it or building on it or remembering it or selling it or lying in it or standing on it, soil is the common ground. Before there were borders it was soil alone, and as the soil changed you could tell just where exactly you were, how far you were from water, how high you were above the ocean. Now it’s all passports and check points and pieces of string across the road attached to a couple of stoned soldiers with nothing better to do then wait for the next sucker to come straining and sliding along the mud.

Pygmy takes plenty of photos, mostly of work, but he has a section that is strictly about butterflies. That’s right, butterflies, because they were here first but they don’t have to claim it, and they don’t hassle him so he doesn’t have to hassle them, and they can choose to stay or fly away.

The one thing that grows beautifully in any soil in Africa is poetry. Pygmy manages to put his purpose down as staying open enough to it all to be able to translate it into rhymes and lines that let the rest of us know that there will always be more to Africa, more to the World in fact, then just the jungle.

I’m going to be keeping an eye on Pygmy from down South, while he keeps one eye on the road, one on the rebels, and his third eye wide on the butterflys inside.

At the office

At the office

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BRICS that don’t build

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BRICS is coming to town this week, Tuesday 26th and Wednesday 27th, the ICC in Durban once again playing host to some of the heavyweights of our little planet and its septic politics.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and of course South Africa. (Wait, shouldn’t that spell BRICSA? Aaaah, but that wouldn’t be a clever little acronym that speaks of building, of development, of construction. Funny time to be speaking about construction in SA given the latest news about just how polluted and corrupt that industry is in its current mechanics).

But, whatever, they are coming, we are welcoming them, we are sitting down with them to decide on some mutual agreements around “partnership for development, integration and industrialization”. This is the theme being touted by the South African hosts, the department of International Relations and Co-operation, headed by her “Maite”ness, she of COP17 infamy.

Apparently, according to the minister and her crew, it would be unpatriotic to criticize SAs inclusion in the BRICS bloc. I take that kind of thing personally, so I decided to figure out my response and put it into some lyrics.

Okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m trying to decide just how worthy this whole thing is of my attention and ire. I have been reading and researching and trying to get to grips with the whole concept of BRICS so I can understand why there is such a solid and concentrated resistance to its existence and our participation therein as the only African country to be involved at any serious level i.e. we got to have our name in the acronym.

Lets start there: BRICS. Bricks should be used to build right? To build what exactly? Infrastructure (the means of extracting wealth & resources), development (producing the right logistical components to facilitate resource extraction) and growth (monetary profit garnered from increased resource extraction, as in GDP). These are primarily economic concerns it would appear, with no mention of social infrastructure (schools, clinics, houses) or development (education) or growth (trust in our civil services and political leadership). These are issues that seem to be concerned solely with our expansion as an economic power, not as a leader in human rights advocacy or democratic advancement.

Once again the red carpets are being rolled out, the blue lights are being dusted off, the sushi is being selected, all for the sake of increasing our capital carrying capabilities and concerns.

BRICS is described as a new Power Bloc. What power exactly? Political muscle against the failing age old Western dominated corporate and political paradigms of our times; economic and capital muscle to make sure that we get to carve a larger section of the pie that governments bake in the big buisness ovens; the power to decide who gets to play in the African sandbox and who has to stand in the naughty corner; the power to control the living standards and self-determination of the people who melt into the concrete mix that builds these “blocs”. Basically, the power to determine who stays in power and how that power is powered.

Needless to say, this doesn’t really include or make space for the “powerless”, the large percentage of people who will ultimately have to serve the ends of that smallest percentage, that ridiculous figure that represents the wealthiest elite few, that 1 percent figure that we are walling off the ICC for, that we shut down streets for, that we protect and pamper while they sweat over the details of their dominance.

I’m ranting here. Plenty of people have broken it down with a lot more clarity and control. Check these links

[ BRICS and the New World Order: a beginners guide

CAN THE BRICS CREATE A NEW WORLD ORDER?

BRICS PARTY WILL SOON BE OVER]

or better yet, get on board with the BRICS from below program that is currently running at the Durban Diakonia Center (http://ccs.ukzn.ac.za/default.asp?2,68,3,2853) the alternative anti-BRICS conference that has created a space for real democratic resistance to this situation as it stands.

It’s best I stick to what I know and say it with poetry, or in this case, poetry’s rough little cousin, Rap music.  I will be launching a track into the digital download space tomorrow that speaks about my understanding of BRICS.

Something like “Whachuknow about building blocks and BLOCS that don’t build? Whachuknow about bricks that build and BRICS that never will?”

They’re dropping BRICS from above, we’re throwing bricks from below.

Choreopoetry: LAST THOUGHTS

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The Tenth Year Anniversary performance season of FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY takes place in March this year, with a performance of their new piece “LAST THOUGHTS”. Artistic director of the company Leanne Loots calls this type of work a “choreopoem” and I have been privileged enough to participate in over ten of these works, partaking in the legacy of choreopoetry that Loots has engendered. A “Choreopoem” is multi-‘multied’: multi-media; multi-genre and multi-textual in a synergy that celebrates cutting-edge creativity. Video; Audio; Contemporary Dance; Breakdance; Graffiti Art; Hip Hop Culture; Spoken Word are all of the multiple layers that will combine in one work.

It takes both a focussed energy and a wide open heart/mind/soul to conceive and construct a work of this nature, and Loots is no joker when it comes to accomplishing such a task.

Our journey so far, over ten years (FDC formed while I was in first year at the then University of Natal) has been an immense privilege, and I don’t say that lightly. Loots and the company have consistently provided me with the most free and open space to write and recite my work, assisting me in developing what I can now call a career in the arts, through nothing more then heartfelt support and passion and true contemporary creativity. There is no denying the feeling of excitement at the thought of working on a fresh project with this company, and this season is taking our history of collaboration to a new level, with Loots incorporating a number of elements of Hip Hop culture into this “poem” and combining our two shared passions into one solid piece.

I joined the process this week having had some initial meetings with Loots already, sparking some rough poetic drafts that I brought into the studio and began to edit while the dancers continued to choreograph and rehearse around me. This is the most amazing space in which to write anything. Physical texts are being explored, together with initial audio ideas for the eventual sound scoring of the piece, and I get to sit amidst all of that creative energy and let my pen work what it will. It sounds intense but in actual fact it is relaxed, grounded in its purpose and respectful in its process.

I like to consider myself FDCs official “Poet-in-residence”, a title I have given myself, because in actual fact, if I have learned anything from Loots and her work and friendship, I am just another dancer, with words as the body of my language.

With just over three weeks to go until we open, the work has just begun. I will be writing two original pieces, learning and performing a Bob Dylan text, beat-boxing and painting some Graffiti for this piece. I couldn’t be happier. Once again I am diving headfirst into the process, in anticipation of the pure soul satisfaction of another season with the company that has come to embody everything that I feel Art should be: conscious; relevant; exciting and educational, from the page to the stage.

Forward FLATFOOT forward!

“It starts with us sir.”

On the 14th and 15th of February this year I joined “1 Billion Rising” in observing ‘Black Friday’ to stand against gender violence and discrimination.  Plenty of people did the same, from activists to everyday individuals.  I was most proud to note the number of staff members at my new workspace, Clifton College, who were observing the black dress-code called for by nationwide initiators of this action.

The most gratifying experience however, was in the classroom itself.

The Head of English chose to use the dress-code as an opportunity to spark a discussion amongst a sharp group of Tenth Graders.  The discussion ranged from initial hesitation and uncertainty, a kind of vague sense of the situation permeating most of the comments, to a complete radical shift in thought that has most of the boys answering truthfully, when pressed to come up with a solution to this social ill, “It starts with us sir.”.  What began as another English lesson ended up being a straight-up heart-to-head discussion about the responsibility of their generation in solving and resolving the horrifying challenge of shifting a societal norm that manifests in brutal acts of pure inhumanity.  The boys were able to recognize the objectification of women, even amongst themselves, where they had enough integrity to admit their own complicity.

“She’s so hot!”

“I’d tap that!”

“She’s a banger!”

They started to recount their own actions.  We asked why they might say such things, and they discovered how women were used to make men seem more manly to other men.

“We say it so our friends will think we’re cool sir.”

We asked them to examine the patriarchal notions of women needing to be protected by men by virtue of some archaic notion of women as both physically and emotionally weaker.  When we asked who women might need to be protected from the answer was quick:

“Other men.”.

The realization began to sink in.  We spoke about how protecting women because you consider them weaker is not protecting them at all, as it goes on to perpetuate a skewed perspective that continues to position women as somehow unequal to men.  We talked about protecting women as you would protect any other person, male or female, not because of their gender, but because of a shared sense of humanity.

Someone said once “When one person is teaching, two people are learning.”.  This has been the most tangible realization of that simple truth that I have ever experienced.  Debating this subject with these young minds has resulted in my own continued education.  This was the type of interaction that reminds me once again that if there is any definite space for radical change to be effected in society, it is the classroom.

Respect to all the true educators out there, from the stage to the studio to the study.

Classrooms are everywhere.

[FLATFOOT DANCE COMPANY and 1 Billion Rising in uMlazi, Durban]

Architecture is a cool word.

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Architecture is a cool word.  Let’s get the formalities out of the way:

architecture |ˈärkiˌtek ch ər|

noun

1 the art or practice of designing and constructing buildings.

• the style in which a building is designed or constructed, esp. with regard to a specific period, place, or culture : Victorian architecture.

2 the complex or carefully designed structure of something : the chemical architecture of the human brain.

the conceptual structure and logical organization of a computer or computer-based system : a client/server architecture.

Now, let’s SLANG it a bit.

It has the words ARCH and TEC in it, both of which apply at some level to its physical manifestation, especially if you take “tec” to mean “technical”.  So now you have “arch” as in a part of a building and “tec” as in “tech” as in “technical” like a blueprint or schematic or plan, both of which are elements of actual physical architecture.

It helps at this point if you spell it like a Graffiti Writer might: ARKITEKCHA or ARKITEKCHER (if you pronounce it like an American might).  Now you get “ark” as in a container as well as “arc” as in a curve or an element of drawing and design and measurement.  In the first slang version you also get “cha” which is like what the British heads say when they are claiming something, for emphasis: “Cha!”.  You can also read “arc it” or “ark it” phonetically, which could be like a new form of slang, like saying “curve it” or “swing it” or since arcs are generally gradual it could be like saying “keep it smooth” or “Arc it”.

If you think “Ark it” though, as in contain it, it could be like saying “hold back” or “control yourself”.  So then the complete “architect” or in this case “Arc it tech” or “Ark it tech” could mean the ability to either be smooth or to keep your cool, both of which are ultimately similar.  The slang for ones collective methods of keeping it cool, of staying smooth, becomes “arkitekcha” or “arkitekcher”.

For example: “I missed my flight this morning and was delayed by 4 hours…arkitekcha.“

Just like the formal “architecture” there is an art to both.  The style with which you keep it smooth can vary as well.  You could have “Ninja arkitekcha” and be very silent and strong, or you could have “Punk arkitekcha” which would be like “take it or leave it, it is what it is, just leave me be to roll as I do” or maybe “Blues arkitekcha” which would be smoky and subdued and kind of laid back.  “Vampire arkitekcha” would be sexy, “Scientific arkitekcha” would be clever etc.etc.

This is of course a very long stretch and a complete poetic license I am taking with the language here, but I am aiming to create something “complex and carefully designed” in its structure, in reference to the formal definition.  The definition further details a “conceptual structure”.  That’s what this was, the structuring of a concept.

Architecture was a cool word.  Now it’s cooler.  Breaking it down should always be about building it up again, better.

Don’t forget to renew your Poetic License.  It’s the write thing to do.

He’s Innocent.

Ask him who he is, he’ ll tell you he’s Innocent.

One day a man came to our door looking for help. He was out of work, supporting his younger brother, and he needed to open a bank account so that he could invest any potential salary he might earn. He showed us his ID (identity document), a valuable item to own in South Africa where access to any kind of social welfare or grant scheme meant you had to prove your permanency as a citizen of the country. He wanted to use it as collateral, as a bond or a trust that he was legit. We asked him what he needed. He said with R200 he could open a bank account, and he would also use some of that money to buy electricity, another valuable service that meant the consumer had a permanent residence to which an electricity account was connected. All of this was very real to us, the nearness we felt all of a sudden to a reality far from our own. At the time we felt we could afford to loan him the money, to float him some cash that he would repay once he was up and running. I went out and drew the cash having told him to return in the evening to collect it. We didn’t keep his ID as much as he insisted we do. We felt that he was legit and wouldn’t make the offer if he intended to screw us.

The next time we saw him he rang the bell and we met him at our gate. This time he immediately pushed his ID over at us while reminding us his name. This time though he was noticeably drunk, slurring, unable to focus. The electricity had run out at his home. No mention of his brother this time, and we didn’t bring it up either, forgetting that detail while listening to his fresh plea for some money. We could have his ID as collateral. I asked him if he was in any way able to pay us back what he already owed, knowing the answer, but giving in to my irritation and spite at having been seemingly suckered. He didn’t give any reason or excuse, just a kind of awkward silence that wasn’t in any way amusing, rather completely uncomfortable. I said I didn’t think we could help him anymore, that I could see he was drunk, letting him know I was upset and unwilling to reason. Again the awkward silence and silent unfocussed stupor, an embaressing moment that completely floodlit the enormous gap between our realities.

We have seen him in the same state through our gate a number of times since then. We have stopped connecting with him beyond curt responses to his greetings and immediate requests that he go away. He began ringing our bell at crazy hours, something we put up with until we had a baby and sleep became a most prized commodity. We have an intercom that connects to the front gate. If the bell rings at odd hours I answer tentatively “Hello?“ and if I can tell it’s him I verify his name. On confirmation I tell him in no uncertain terms to bugger off or i’m calling the police, something I doubt I will ever do but resorting to that lame defensive move in any case, with nothing else to do in my nervousness and fear for my new family in the light of his obvious instability and desperation. I don’t even know if he remembers who we are. He must have some idea though, to keep trying his luck, seeing if we might one day give in and sponsor his existance again.

He still offers his ID. His name seems to be his only bartering tool. That official document, worth so much but lacking so much when it comes to his true identity. He drinks, obviously. So do I. I wonder what he drinks, with who, where? I wonder how he ended up begging, what is he actually capable of work wise, is he qualified in any way? What makes him proud? What makes him laugh? When he thinks of the future what does it hold? This identity is all he really has. The document, the book, is only an object in his life, something he was given, something he can give away or trade. His hopes and dreams and failures and successes don’t fit in a book, they can’t be traded or given away. They are worth more then weight or physicality but apparently they are worth less then reality. They can’t be drunk, or eaten. They will wear but can’t be worn.

I have to check whenever the bell rings, ask for a name, gaurding myself against his identity. He tells me everytime, “I’m Innocent.“

Simple thoughts on a better world

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The banks weren’t set up to serve the people, they were set up to serve the banks.  The people serve the banks in a banking system.

The country with the most might is the most powerful country, untouchable unswayable impenetrable.  The most might is ensured by the most money.  The biggest army needs the biggest economy, and then they begin to support each other, the army and the economy.

The system is not designed to be anything other then a cyclical support system for this industry, a monetary system whose biggest investor is the military industry: more money means more war means more money.  This system is not designed to improve the lives of the poor, or to eradicate poverty.  That would ultimately spell the end of the system.  It would be suicidal for the system to take away the need for anyone to accumulate capital, as the system needs that motion of money to maintain its cycle.  Eradicating monetary poverty would have to mean establishing a system that didn’t cycle around monetary wealth.

When a poor man wants to succeed he thinks about becoming rich, accumulating wealth, capital gain, each step of which involves investment in the banking system, a system that is set up and maintained by the banks.  The banks control capital on behalf of themselves and the rich minority, together forming the upper tiers of the system.  So each move by a poor man to become a rich man ultimately further enriches those in control of that investment, in control of the capital.  The move that the poor man makes is ultimately made to benefit the banks.  The gap between rich and poor is maintained by the poor investing in becoming rich.

If the poor could break out of the monetary system, in which they exist as poor, and establish a system of sustained survival that was not dependant on accumulating money, then they would fall out of the category of “poor” and break free from its associations i.e. the self-inhibiting and disempowering feeling of worthlessness. Worthlessness is related to definitions of worth and in a monetary system that worth is defined by material aquisition of items deemed valuable by the same system.  “Valuable” again is defined by value and value, outside of a monetary system, is an arbitrary concept, or at least a concept that can be personally defined.

If our ideas of worth and value, of success and failure, can be re-examined and recreated so that they don’t imply money or material gain, then we will have taken a
crucial and concrete step towards eventual emancipation from this system of capitalist consumer control.

I’m willing to work on it, utopian as it might seem, coz if there’s one thing the majority of us agree on, it’s that a better world is possible.