Saturday, May 20, 2006

Diaspora Days

An acquaintance remembers people from her village selling their blood.

Another said -- a while ago -- that she's thinking of joining the police because it's been really hard finding work here. Her parents aren't keen though -- her brother did survive what a different set of police did to him in another time and place, but not unscathed. And there would be other complications too. I don't think she did join in the end and of that I'm glad.

A friend told of coming out from nightclubs rolling drunk as a teenager and stepping over the bodies of people sleeping in the street and his disgust for what he was then.

Someone I used to work with many years ago now -- far older than me -- recalled growing up amid the rubble of bombed out buildings.

Sitting in a pub chatting with an ex-colleague who has recently returned from Haj. "Can you believe the idiot?" she asks "The boss calls me into his office and says 'Oh I hope you aren't going to go all religious now."

On the way to go union organising, a friend and I compare notes about where we grew up. Two smoggy cities, one big, one little. Shared nostalgia for imagined countries irrevocably lost. If it makes it through June and July, hers is probably safe until September: after all from a marketing point of view, August is not a good month for introducing new product.

Talking about my all-too-brief stint backpacking (I'm happiest when travelling without purpose but with intent) -- and the way that it is possible to just submerge oneself into that transient society of hostelling Antipodeans (and at the same time also peculiar because they are on their big OE before they go back 'home' and their home is no longer yours) and to so quickly get used to drifting from place to place with what you have on your back (admittedly one of those things that you have on your back being an ATM card). "'Yes." he said "One does get used to things being different surprisingly quickly." But the person I'm sharing coffee with is remembering Kosovo.

A beloved friend -- more than a friend in fact, one of those rare people, fiercely brave, that you don't have to trust because you know. It's not that you know what she'll do exactly, but whatever she does is true. I haven't seen her for too long now. It's prohibitively difficult for me to get a visa to go and see her, even if I had the wherewithal. And if it's difficult for me, how much more so for her?

Like him, his parents were communists. He grew up with the knowledge that he should never discuss politics with his school friends.

It's not that we always left because we wanted to. Far from it. But it's true that if we had all stayed put, we'd never have met.


Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

What I like about my, and certain other selected hoods around the globe, is that one can essentially travel round the world in a spiral grid and back simply by walking around the block.

It is at once diaspora and world-building, a celebration of borderlessness, world citizenship, world citizenry. Who wants the indigestible, tasteless glutinous mess of a melting pot when one can have a delicious salad? Fresh and crisp and colorful, each delectable flavor intact and complementing each other, a little of everything in every bite, and best of all, tomorrow's salad, or your neighbor's salad today, will be nothing like your salad, today or tomorrow. It is an every-changing, ever-crunching kaleidoscope of flavors, stories, songs, fabrics, colors, languages, smells and textures, a never-ending picnic for senses and intellect, a perpetually passing pastry cart for the spirit, a place where every tradition, every religion, every culture is as cherished and as at home as every other, and whatever road may have brought each of us here, this is our world and it is home. That's what diaspora means to me. It's a beautiful word, and should be the name of a fine ladies' perfume. (Show her she's your world. Diaspora. New. From Givencchy).

The religious-minded will recall the Koran verse, "I have made you different tribes, that you might know each other." (That you might diaspora)

Now I will shut up, and as requested post the comments from my blog. I am sorry they are so few. Almost no one comments on my blog. If they want me dead, they email. If they want to talk about what I wrote, they bring it up on other blogs. I think it may be a design issue. I know I almost never comment on James, for example, though I love his blog, and in fact, am privileged to be part of it. Or XP's. Simply because their blogs are black and hard for me to see. I have to select all and copy. And Duke's seems like a newspaper. I go there to get information, and talk about it on other peoples' blogs. We are building a whole new kind of blog community - a diaspora!

supersoling, remember... things in the mirror are always closer than they appear. When I can't even recognize something I need to work in changing is when I start to worry... for the rest, we're all a work in progress.

Ductape, I keep trying to type something here and I keep running out of words. Well, at least out of meaningful ones. I wasn't sure what you were referring to, about the three year old, until I went and read some older threads...

I don't know what words can be used to break through... actually, when one is discussing whether the point blank shooting of a three year old can be justified... by stress or anything else, I don't believe there are any more words. And actually that conditioning begins here, with the various police forces and long time immunity to accountability. "If they shot them, they must have been doing something wrong somehow, even if just by virtue of being there to get in the way of the bullet."
Nanette | Homepage | 05.20.06 - 6:45 pm | #


That mysterious force that keeps you moving at all is the urge to have a nation, and to have an identity. Keep on inching.

We all hope that the capacity of any human to commit inhuman acts, against a toddler, an adult, any living thing, is an aberration. Many people have worked over the millennia to advance mankind from a mindless brute who eschews his capabilities of reason and thought, and celebrates his opposable thumb and ablity to use tools by bashing in the heads of any and all smaller or weaker beings who cross his path.

This is, in fact, one of the purposes of societies, even tribes, the precursors of "nations," this notion will have been in the back of the mind of that first early human who cocked his head to once side for a minute, and then inched forward toward his smallest neighbor, and committed identity suicide by clumsily placing his stockpile of nuts and berries next to that of the astonished neighbor, smiled, and felt that funny twitch in his back legs again, and unlike most of his species-mates in the same immediate area, together with his neighbor, overcame their fright and survived the winter.
DuctapeFatwa | Homepage | 05.20.06 - 2:42 pm | #


It's not easy to look in the mirror and see myself caught, still, between two worlds. I wish I could say that I've cured the Alex in me of her feelings of exceptionalism and patriotism, but I can't....not yet. I am on the path though. I am inching forward, too slow I know, yet moving nonetheless.

There is a disgusting, soul searing feeling of disbelief that consumes me when I hear anyone, let alone my countrymen, try to justify the murder of a toddler. There can never, ever be a justification for such acts of wanton brutality. I can only surmise and hope that whatever Satan resides in the black, cold heart of such a person is an aberration. I know...I need to educate me on that point. To imagine it any other way would be the same as commiting identity suicide for me. Please forgive me my fright.
supersoling | 05.20.06 - 11:17 am |

5/21/2006 3:22 am  
Blogger dove said...

Where to begin?
I love your celebration of diaspora and share your conviction that it is a beautiful word. Also, I think you have given me occasion to go to a bookshop and do some reading which, though not religiously-minded, I should have done many years hence.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I also share your distaste for assimilation. Cultural fusions, adaptations and changes which in their turn eventually create new cultures? Absolutely.

But there is a world of difference between that and assimilation's insistance on a monolingual monoculture in which the different things, experiences and ideas we bring are at best relegated to the merely decorative.

Much of what optimism I have is placed in diaspora -- in the allegiances and relationships (transient and lasting, because both have their place) that it enables which not only do not fall along national borders but, through their very existence subvert and undermine those borders, bringing into the light their cruel and arbitrary capriciousness.

At the same time though, it seems to me that as things currently stand, diaspora is often about pain as well as pleasure -- and it's that mixture which, I guess, I was trying to capture with these vignettes. On the one hand, all of these relationships (some fleeting and casual, others enduring and profound) have been, I think, a source of reciprocal pleasure. But on the other, what brought us to the various places where those meetings became possible were often some sharply constrained and painful choices (considerably less constrained and painful for me than most, though still not without elements of both) -- and sometimes, of course, not choices at all.

At the end of this year, I'll have been part of diaspora for 10 years (although in a variety of ways I've been linked to diaspora all my life, having been fortunate enough to grow up in a family that did not think kindly of insularity). On the one hand, it is something I could never give up (and really, even if I did want to which I do not, that ship sailed some time ago). On the other, it often feels like walking on ice.

Anyway, that was a positively Olympic waffle.

Thankyou for posting the comments from your blog here. I will second the call to declare Nanette an inter-planetary treasure.

Supersoling, on the off-chance that you drop by here, I hope that you will feel welcome to join in the conversations. I don't use haloscan, but have the anonymous comment function enabled so you don't need a blogger identity to post -- just sign your posts in the post-text itself.

Finally, DTF, I've been meaning to ask for a while -- how do you find this space on the eyes?

5/21/2006 2:07 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

I agree that the Elysian Fields of diaspora are, in our age, frequently attained only after a long list of banalities of evil and commonplace horrors, and perhaps that makes us, or most of us anyway, a bit more sensitive to the continuing and for the most part, unecessary suffering of billions.

Again I am reminded of the western reporter who took a laptop into rural Pashtunistan and showed the villagers video of the planes hitting the World Trade Center, in an attempt to explain to them why the Americans were bombing their community.

They watched the video, they listened politely, they considered it all, and finally the village elder spoke.

"But why are the Americans so angry?" he asked. "Only two of their buildings were destroyed."

Now the purpose of that story has nothing to do with one's opinion of the 911 events, or Washington's preference that they not be looked into too closely.

What the story illustrates is the vast gap in perspective that exists in a place where for decades it has, for all practical purposes, been 911 every day.

It offers the opportunity to contemplate unbridgeable disconnect in the minds and worldview, attitudes, opinions and beliefs, of those for whom "911" has been normal life and those who are protected by warnings before they are shown a bloodstain on a highway where a multi-vehicle accident took place.

Aha! cries Alex. So you are saying that America is better and that is why so many people come here!

No. I am saying that in the eye of the hurricane, there is no wind.

And I am also saying that that is about to change.

There is a saying, that who you are is not determined by what happens TO you, but how you react to it, what you DO after it happens.

Civilization is not a thing of nations, of cultures, or religions. It is a state of existence that either is or is not sought, attained, embraced by individuals. As is diaspora. The two frequently form a very healthy and interdependent relationship, and this happy marriage makes for excellent hoods here and there.

A few years ago, a young American white woman, doing humanitarian work in South Africa, was murdered. Her parents were devastated with grief. They did not seek vengeance, they did not demand to perpetuate the violence, become part of it, make it part of them, show the world that they could be even more brutal than the murderers. Instead, to honor her memory, they went to South Africa to continue her work, and I believe they are still there today. They chose to demonstrate what made their daughter, what makes them, different from the murderers. They are civilized people, they are part of the diaspora.

On to the technical notes:

This space, being white and having dark letters, is fine on my eyes. All I have to do is make the letters bigger, which is something I have to do everywhere, even the icon labels on my desktop, the font in my text editor, this is a great advantage of the computer over paper books, they do not come with an increase font function!

And lest anyone misunderstand, I think James and XP both have beautiful blogs, I hope they will never change the black, it is so pretty to look at, and can be easily read by everybody but the nearly blind. The worst technical problem I have had on a blog was a graphic or animation or something XP had for a while, that made the whole page blink on my fine museum quality squirrel-powered machine. But time passed, it sank from the front page, and I can see enough to select all and copy, which is not really a big deal, all one has to do is click a few times. It is not necessary to fell any trees and chop them, plow any rock-strewn fields with a rejectionist bullock, cut a path through thick jungle armed only with a short sword, or wash muddy and uncooperative descendants. Just clicking. I love the computer!

5/21/2006 9:45 pm  
Blogger dove said...

On that day, I remember thinking with a kind of rage (even as I was trying over and over again to call my friends in New York to see how they were doing and indeed to check that they were still alive although common sense told me that they probably would be)that it would turn out that many more people died that day of starvation and other forms of everyday brutality, that their lives were every iota as valuable as anybody else's and where was the outrage for them?

5/21/2006 10:18 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

One of the most brutal and unanimous attacks I have ever seen on any message board was rained upon some poor soul who dared to wonder, a few days after the 911 events, what life was like for a Palestinian firefighter.

For days the vitriol rained down on the words of that brave soul, s/he was accused of everything from flying one of the planes to being a member of a modern day Nazi organization. And of course, almost every post included language about hating America and seeking to destroy Israel ;)

(no, it was not me, though I admit to wondering the same thing as people went on about the brave NYFD, and yes, there were many firefighters who did many brave things that day, as do many firefighters in many lands, every day.)

5/22/2006 12:26 am  
Blogger dove said...

I'm in the middle of dropping you a line (my email seems finally to tbe working again!)

5/22/2006 12:51 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From poco:

dove, your notion of diaspora subverting national boundaries makes a lot of sense. I always have this bizarre, and distinctly uncomfortable, stretched across lines feeling--when people in the US make uninformed comments about India and when at home, Indians make uninformed comments about the US. Given my sense of alienation from both places, I don't really want to explain and defend and justify, and yet I find myself doing so, over and over again. Bleeech!

I am going to urge you very strongly to read The Shadow Lines by Amitava Ghosh--its set in London, Dacca and Calcutta, and deals with the lines of connection and the shadow lines of division among the three. Hie thee to the bookstore, she says, quoting the owner of this site.

5/22/2006 10:02 pm  
Blogger dove said...

I shall poco. I have two books to obtain now. If I do not have them by next Monday I shall rely on you to chastise me. (It'll probably have to be the weekend)

Yes, that stretched feeling is familiar. Oddly enough, with New Zealand one doesn't so much end up having to defend it as attack it in order to counter the idea that it's some kind of utopia with extra added bonus sheep. (There's a political party there, the McGillicuddy Serious Party, one of whose policy planks used to be "14 (40? I can't remember, 14 seems kind of low) sheep for every man, woman and child"). Also pioneers of the Great Leap Backwards -- clearly ahead of their time.

5/22/2006 10:16 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From poco:

dove, thank you so much for a hilarious 15 minutes! I have to confess my ignorance about the McGillicuddy Serious Party and Great Leap Backwards, so went to check them up on Wikipedia.

So besides suggesting that contests be solved through pillow fights or with paper swords, which apparently led to the contestants being treated for paper cuts, their platform includes such gems as: free dung, chocolate fish to be used as currency, voting rights only for minors, abandoning male suffrage and putting up a hedgehog for parliament just so they could make prick jokes. Whats not to like!!

5/22/2006 10:54 pm  
Blogger dove said...

I remember those terrible days of inflation. Hauling your wheelbarrow full of chocolate fish to go and buy a loaf of bread. Uphill, both ways.

I think the sleep dep is starting to kick in.

5/22/2006 11:02 pm  
Anonymous supersoling said...

Thank you for the welcome. It is very much appreciated. I had no idea that Mr. Fatwa would post my comment here, and was a little confused when I first saw it. Now, I understand that you are his honorary great grandaughter, but for a moment I thought you might be one in the same when I saw my words here. For a fleeting second and a half I thought that a great hoax had been perpetrated upon me :o)
So...please don't tell me that New Zealand isn't the great Utopia I had imagined it was. I was saving that place as my last resort refuge for my family if I ever came to the conclusion that we needed to leave this country. Especially now that you've spilled the beans about the bonus sheep program;o)


5/22/2006 11:23 pm  
Blogger dove said...

I'm glad you've come by supersoling and hope you will keep on doing so. No -- Ductape and I are not one and the same -- but since haloscan on his blog hates me, I sometimes prevail upon him or others to post comments from his blog here so that I can read them.

There are certainly worse places to go, and it is quite beautiful, but it's a bit like being at the bottom of a gravity well. And it has its own sordid variations of colonialism of course.

5/23/2006 12:08 am  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Hey my blog doesn't have variations of colonialism. Oh wait, you meant New Zealand. Got it.

And it appears that you may be in denial about New Zealand's extra bonus sheep situation. Just embrace them. In a friendly, platonic way, I mean. You have to admit, they ARE fluffy. Although now that I think about it, far too many New Zealanders are also in denial about the astronomical sheep fluffiness level.

On a different but related topic, could this Serious Party be persuaded to liberate the US? And stamp out the shameful American sheep shortage, demonstrating the traditional New Zealand spirit of shearing, um sharing.

5/23/2006 2:14 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From poco:

Do you all remember Gene (drat, whats his name?) in Woody Allen's "Everything you want to know about sex" and his affair with the sheep? Nicely arrayed in seductive pink ribbons, the sheep and Gene ....

This is what reading DuctapeFatwa's posts do to me. Faugh!

Hi Supersoling.

5/23/2006 4:41 am  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Supersoling, your reference to "identity suicide" inspired me.

I was working on a rant, and had gotten stuck, and you pulled me out!

The Woes of the Atrocity Apologist

5/23/2006 10:13 pm  
Blogger dove said...

DTF, check your email -- inquiring minds have a question that needs an answer. ;)

5/23/2006 10:41 pm  
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