100 Days: A Poetic Response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days 81-90

Inspired by the quiet homage to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide that Wangechi Mutu started posting on social media on April 6, I decided to respond. I offer these poetic pieces as a way to think about the way in which we navigate through knowing about and understanding the genocide and other wars that endure.

Here are Days 90- 81 

Day 81
Nine times
Nine times they called out
Nine times, just nine

We know this because each call caused a finger to fall
We know this because there was one finger left
The ringed one
Only the ringed one

Day 82

This is to confirm that there is something to be said

For tying the waist really tight

Tight, tight, tight, tight

Tighter than when spoiling for a fight

Tighter that when getting ready to receive a heavy burden

Tight enough for days that rolled upon days

 

It was the tightness in our waists that kept us going

 

Day 83

We failed to read the clouds

As we had been taught to do in high school

Cumulonimbus chasing cotton balls

Cumulonimbus alone

Cumulonimbus with or without rain

 

What did it all mean?

What did it mean that we failed to read the sky?

It wasn’t in the cowrie shell readings

It wasn’t in the tea

Perhaps Cumulonimbus was a script in the sky

A writing that was not familiar

Not then and definitely not now

 

Day 84

Impressionistic moments follow each other

Like Monet come to life

It’s after two in the afternoon

Now it’s evening

Now suddenly night

 

Food, blanket

No food, no blanket

It’s all the same

 

There were no hundred days

Just a jumble of impressions

Moments that sometimes piled up

On top of each other

Sometimes moments lay side by side

Holding hands

Sleeping hungry

Or without blankets

 

Day 85

And God said: Let there be light

And there was light from the beginning of the world

There was light on this day like all the other days

Every day there was light enough to see everything

We didn’t always need to see

We didn’t need to see everything everyday

 

Day 86

My country belongs to God.

These are our scriptures:

 

Happy shall he be

that taketh and dasheth

thy little children unto the rock

Psalms 137:9

 

Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord

Roman 12:19

 

I will be there

where there are two or more gathered in my name

Christ proclaims in Matthew 18:20

 

Jesus must have a permanent presence in the church

Where the door has been propped ajar for eternity

Jesus Christ must live here

Where congregants were struck in supplication

Pleading for their lives, pleading, pleading for their lives

 

Where shall we find comfort?

Where can we go in this country of God?

 

Day 87

Reconciliation is minding my business

Reconciliation is minding my life

Reconciliation is aimed at my head

Reconciliation leaves me no choice

 

Don’t get me wrong

 

Reconciliation is a grand thing

Reconciliation photographs very well

Reconciliation makes people smile

Reconciliation feels good, dresses well

Writes well, conjures good dreams

 

Reconciliation wants me to wipe my tears dry

To wipe the slate clean — well at least wipe it

It wants me to forget my first born daughter

The one I could not bury

The one whose body I walked away from

Day 88
After all this, today
Another vigorous attempt to divvy up moments equally
Stillness, nothingness
A vacuous attempt to move, to sound, to connect to anyone, anyhow
Time flashes
Time drags
In another couple of months we will begin to grasp
The unending nature of these one hundred days
As nothing except what it was —
A nothingness that compounded nothing into being

 

Day 89

What do crickets know about innocence?

Were they not there?

Did they not see more than we did

Staying closer to the ground than we ever were?

 

Innocence in that ghastly cry –Why?  Why do we do this to ourselves?

Innocence in that other proclamation – Never, never, never again

 

Innocence is power without experience

Innocence is a knowing untempered

Crickets know that there is no innocence on hallowed ground

 

Day 90

How these hundred days

Should be days to think

About reconciliation and forgiveness

To consider the irrationality of ethnic cleansing

To see the phoenix rise again

& grief overcome

To witness humanity & good

& the power of God

To make miracles

 

That ultimately

Commemoration is a crafted affair

A beautiful thing

A symbol of power and resonance

The everlasting flame

 

We don’t have to remember

The empty space in our arms

That our lost children will never fill

 

This is not our liberty

We’re not free to forget

 

 

 

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100 Days: A Poetic Response to Wangechi Mutu’s #Kwibuka20#100 Days 91-100

Inspired by the quiet homage to the 1994 Rwanda Genocide that Wangechi Mutu started posting on social media on April 6, I decided to respond. I offer these poetic pieces as a way to think about the way in which we navigate through knowing about and understanding the genocide and other wars that endure. Here are 100 Days – 91 Days

Day 91

We couldn’t have known, nine days in
That it would ever be over
It was a time warp that had us
In flashes and then in woozy moments 
That took forever

A machete hangs in a museum in Ottawa
A machete hangs perpetually in a museum in Ottawa
A machete hangs like a mockery of time
Like a semblance of that reality
In which another machete
Other machetes hang for what seemed a long time
But eventually they come down
Again and again and again and again and again
Even time marked by machete strokes
Can never be accurate

 

Mutu-kwibuka-91

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 91

Day 92

We wish for absolution for a clearing
for a forgetting, a filling of the heart
& a joyousness once more

We wish for children of innocence
we wish for an instantiation of things
a rationality that resonates with our emotions

We wish for the silence of the moon
the quieting of ghosts 
& a peace to rest in

 

Mutu-kwibuka-92

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 92

 

 

Day 93

Suffice to say that there was nothing sufficient for some
Elsewhere:
Elections, and the winners won
A car chase
War ended
Another war continued
Jackal emerged
Earth rattled
Now headlines
Now pictures
Now memories
Now colour
Now movement
Now silence
Now drama
Nothing reflects the efficiency with which those days went by
We were betrayed by a month and a half that now we call commemoration

 

Mutu-kwibuka-93

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 93

 

 

Day 94

 

We walked when our legs could carry us
hinky pinky ponky
hinky pinky ponky
Childhood rhythms carried us along
hinky pinky ponky
hinky pinky ponky
Songs from days of innocence
Like holding hands, like soft embraces
hinky pinky ponky
hinky pinky ponky
Father had a donkey
We needed a rhythm to walk
To move, to drag ourselves along

Who could count past four?
Acel ariyo adek angwen
Who could count past four?
hinky pinky ponky
hinky pinky ponky
Father had a donkey
Donkey die
Father cry
hinky pinky ponky
It seemed as though there was a time before tears
It seemed a dream to think that there was a time when fathers could cry

 

Mutu-kwibuka-94

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 94

 

 

Day 95

 

Time, they taught us
Was linear and exact 

Time was a series of beats, a line extending from the beginning of things

Forget the idea that illumination is an indication of knowing

Forget that 
We were trapped in a hundred days, a hundred days
Of light, each following the other, each following the other

Time bore witness to our erratic heartbeats but we
remain trapped in a hundred days that have morphed into years and years

How can we exist outside of betrayal by time and land?

 

Mutu-kwibuka-95

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 95

 

 

 

Day 96

What is the essence of beauty?
Why do mists mean, swirl and rise but never completely disappear?
Why should iron gleam through soil?
Why should our dances be graceful, our cloths bright
Our memories long, our language rich and layered?
Why should beauty render us speechless?
What is it to come from a land that swallows its own people?

 

Mutu-kwibuka-96

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 96

 

 

Day 97

The poet told us of her brother
The poet told us of her drunken brother, speaking of his dreams
He was an alcoholic, he was always drunk
The poet told us about her drunken brother who spoke of his mad, mad dream
She told us how he spoke like a mad man, about this dream
Like a prophet, insisting on an unknown truth
Like the drunken man that he was, imposing faith that no one wanted to hear
Like Jesus
Like all the holy prophets, even the ones we forgot
The poet told us about her brother who spoke of a dream
In which everybody would die
They would kill everybody
Except me, she said
Except me

 

 

Mutu-kwibuka-97

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 97

 

 

Day 98

If this should be a list of betrayals where should we begin?
At last, we’re here
At last, we’re gone
What is this life beyond one hundred days?
What is this life beyond one hundred days, twenty times over?
What days are left?
We were already in medias res
We were always inside one hundred days

 

 

Mutu-kwibuka-98

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 98

 

 

 

 

Day 99

It was sunrise every morning
It was the same land
The same sky 
The same rivers, hills, valleys
It was the same road that led away and back home
Same sweet air that amplified the voices through whispers, gossip, airwaves
Words leapt into our eyes and burned this new knowledge that was never new
But it was the earth that betrayed us first 
In those one hundred days that would never end

 

 

 

Mutu-kwibuka-99

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 99

 

 

 

Day 100

It was the earth that betrayed us first. 
It was the earth that held on to its beauty, compelling us to return. 
It was the breezes that were there, and then they were not there. 
It was the sun that rose and fell, rose and fell, as if there was nothing different: as if nothing changed

 

 

Mutu-kwibuka-100

Wangechi Mutu – 20th Anniversary Rwanda Genocide – day 100

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The Art of Revolution: Spoken Word, Video, and Performance Art to Change The World — Juliane Okot Bitek

by:  on January 8th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Juliane Okot Bitek knows the power of narrative. An award winning writer living in Vancouver, Canada, Okot Bitek is also an Acholi woman who calls Gulu in Northern Uganda home. Considering the civil war (1986- 2006) that plagued northern Ugandans, it’s no wonder much of Okot Bitek’s passionate writing focuses on social and political issues. In the last decade, through her poetry, essays, fiction, nonfiction and opinion pieces, Okot Bitek has fought both to make sense of, and to expose the tragedies of her homeland.

Okot Bitek comes to writing through an impressive lineage. Her late father is the famed Ugandan poet, essayist, novelist and academic, Okot p’Bitek, who was, shortly before his death in 1982, appointed as the first professor of Creative Writing at Makerere University in Kampala. Things weren’t always so rosy, however. As a result of her father’s work, Okot Bitek and her family spent the early years of her childhood in exile in Kenya. As a result of this history, Okot Bitek is no stranger to political strife and social unrest. Still, in spite of this, she describes the pleasure of growing up in a house full of books and lively debates between her parents and their literary and artistic friends. Some of Africa’s luminaries were regular houseguests: Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and David Rubadiri were men she called uncle, and on a given day they might be filling the Okot Bitek household with their intellect, their opinions and their friendship.

Growing up in such an environment would make anyone sensitive to the importance of storytelling. As Okot Bitek says, “Stories are everything. Without a story, none of us exists.” But it’s not just the significance of narrative that is so dear to Okot Bitek, she is sensitive to the invisibility and the silence that shrouds those whose stories don’t get heard. This is evident in the work she has recently completed, which is provisionally titled Stories From the Dry Season. Collaborating with Dr. Erin Baines of the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia and Grace Acan, a women’s advocate and LRA survivor, Okot Bitek took on this work as a way to tell the stories of women from northern Uganda who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (L.R.A) and who eventually returned to civilian life after long and terrible years of abuse and assault.

A doctoral student at UBC herself, Okot Bitek recently participated in a poetry reading at the Liu Institute for Global Issues with one of the subjects of her book and co-author, Grace Acan. In 1996 Acan was abducted, along with many other girls, from her school in Uganda when she was only 16. For eight years she was the captive of rebels, living a terrifying and unstable life in the bush as a “rebel wife”. She bore two children during this time, but tragically, one of her them was killed in an attack by the Ugandan army. Attempts at escape by other bush wives were met with brutal beatings, even murder, but eventually Grace did escape and she is now a university student who is also involved in the Women’s Advocacy Network, a local NGO that seeks justice for women affected by the war in Uganda.

More on Grace Acan can be found here.

And an interview with Grace Acan can be heard here

A Minute with Juliane Okot Bitek

An interview by the lovely people at the Interdisciplinary Graduate Studies Program

A Minute with Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek

Juliane Okot Bitek is a PhD student in Interdisciplinary Students Graduate Program.  She holds a Master’s Degree in English and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art (Creative Writing).  Her doctoral research focuses on post-conflict narratives of formerly abducted women in northern Uganda.  Juliane is an essayist and poet whose work has been anthologized and published widely in literary magazines, on-line and in print.  She recently completed a book, Stories from the Dry Season, which she co-authored with Grace Acan, a women’s advocate in northern Uganda.  Juliane has been an invited poet at the International Poetry Festivals of Medellin, Colombia (2008) and Granada, Nicaragua (2009).  She continues to write and speak about issues of home, homeland and diaspora.

We interviewed Juliane Okot Bitek in July 2013.

Essential biography:

“A Chronology of Compassion or Towards an Imperfect Future” International Journal of Transitional Justice Special Edition. Vol. 6, Iss. 3. 394-403.(Fall 2012)

“Dreams of Home Place and Belonging: A Fractured Essay for a Sense of Home.” Cutting Edge; A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies at UBC. Vol.1

Drums of My Flesh by Cyril Dabydeen (Tsar Publications, 2007) Canadian Literature: A Quarterly of Criticism and Review 198 (Autumn 2008) Canada and its Discontents 106- 107

What is the best moment of the day?

For certain, it’s got to be after dinner. With the exception of days when brilliance shows itself whenever it does, the moment supper is done I feel as though all my responsibilities for the day have been met and the world is mine.

What kind of music do you listen to at the moment?

I don’t have a music collection on my phone. I don’t feel the need to be plugged in and I’m also afraid of missing out in real life sounds.

Do you listen to the radio?

CBC Radio while I make dinner so mostly I catch the news. As it Happens and sometimes The Current Revue. On the odd Sunday I’m thrilled to catch The Vinyl Cafe with Staurt Maclean.

What was your first job?

Selling snacks at the cinema before and during the intermission at my mom’s kiosk. I didn’t get paid in cash but we got all the benefits of watching movies, playing pinball games and watching concerts for free.
What Academic books/articles are you reading now? In preparing for comps, I have a bunch of reading to get through. At this very moment: Dionne Brand’s Ossuaries, James Scotts’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance, Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks and Richard Delgado’s Critical Race Theory.

What Non-Academic books do you have on your bedside table?

They Call Me Lolita, 419.

When you were a child, did you want to study a PhD?

Where do you work?

At the Liu Institute for Global Issues.

Do you discuss your work with other researchers or academics, aside from your peers?

Yes, anyone who will listen.

Describe what is to be “interdisciplinary”, like you would describe it to a good friend.

Like a good outfit made to fit your figure through different sizing for the top and the bottom but it looks good together.

What interdisciplinary research or work has given you the best satisfaction?

The intersection between the politics, creative and critical writing, reading and thinking is so exciting when it comes together in a piece through the works of Toni Morrison, Dionne Brand, Wangechi Mutu, Wambui Mwangi, Anne Carson, Audre Lorde for example.

Is there any researcher or academic you admire or appreciate a lot?

Oh yes. My supervisory committee are my intellectual stars.

What advice would you give up to aspiring Grad-School, or Grad Students.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and so it’s important to work your core muscles, eat and sleep well.

What are you afraid of regarding the future?

That my core muscles won’t hold.