Observing their undocumented lives I appreciated the delicate importance of giving a voice to the voiceless, which innovative writing is able to do.
That was the clinching, award-winning, we-will-give-you-a-place-at-University line of my personal statement. It became my tag-line, my mantra, the focus point upon which all my energies turned after spending 10 days working with orphaned HIV children in the township of Sweetwaters in Durban. Giving a voice to the voiceless. Why? Because, I said gallantly with my ‘i love english literature’ cap screwed tightly over my growing-afro: Everyone has a story that should be heard. Knowledge is power, by educating people we bring about a real change in the world. If we cannot speak then we cannot be heard etc etc – wow, you should win the Noble Peace Prize and get an immediate job at the UN.
But I sit here, after just watching a film on the El Salvador civil war, and i ask myself – what does that mean?! That drivel up there [insert vertical arrow]! That mindless, ignorant, optimism. What does it mean to give a voice to the voiceless? Who are the voiceless? Why are they voiceless, what are you saying?! If you check my tag cloud it becomes very clear very quickly that I am verging on if not having fallen off, the cliff of obsession when it comes to the ‘Voice’ as a concept. It consumes me. I say, I want to speak for people who cannot vocalise their feelings, their experiences, the world through their eyes, because they are oppressed, uneducated, they have neither the means nor the strength nor the opportunities not just to speak but to be heard by the right people. And I look at my life, I look at the potential I have and I think, instead of being an English graduate who eats baked beans, or rather, ‘eats cereal with her fork to save the milk’ (thank you Kanye and the Broke-phi-Broke fraternity), I’ll do something useful, I’ll be a game changer, a world changer.
Yet I am silenced. Censored by the disgusting, vile, insane madness that lives inside of me that is called humanity. The malice, the blind, consuming, ravishing and destructive potency of bloodlust and power that sits so smoothly within the cold steel held in childrens hands. I watched as children younger than my nieces huddled under beds as bullets shredded their homes into swiss cheese – then got up, went to school and watched fire-lights glide through the prematurely silent night. As they knelt in the mud and felt the bullets pass through their neighbours heads, or lay on scalding-hot corrugated iron roofs to avoid conscription…and the innocence of childhood was replaced by fear, anxiety, that gluttonous presence of hatred.
My God, how can we live in a world like this? And it’s not the first time. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced this, I’ve watched, read, cried over things such as this. I revel in finding out about this information, it sets me on fire and as I said before, gives me a focus.
But tonight, tonight, i am vilified and lost. How do we navigate a world that has no rules, that is so alien from anything I could comprehend? I can’t imagine myself running through the forest snapping photos of guerrilla fighters, interviewing and screaming down a tape recorder as the mud beneath my feet blows up into shrapnel decorated geysers. I would be shitting myself, my urine coating the insides of my thighs like liquid cocoa-butter as I watched rifle butts press into the heads of eight year old children, punching holes the way I punch printed essays before placing them in my lovingly made book-themed wallpaper wrapped folders. Except the holes that remain in their heads get filled with the squiggling bodies of worms, maggots, oozing-decay-eutrophication-sprinkled river water, the iron of their blood merging with the alloy bullets that fall like man-made raindrops creating the most glamorous hailstorm you could imagine.
We hear the cry of their innocent voices, we are galvanised to fight the good fight, but how the hell do we do it? How do you write about something like that? How do you incarnate their reality into words that not only strike the hearts of an apathetic world, but light an all-consuming fire for justice that effects change? When our own governments are perpetuating it, when the miry, filthy corruption that masks any sense of ‘truth’ can barely filter onto our TV screens, when we just don’t understand.
That’s the problem. I have never experienced war. I’ve never seen or held a gun that doesn’t shoot anything more than paint-pellets. I do not know what it’s like to smell fear when I’m not at Thorpe Park. I don’t know what it means to love enough that you run screaming onto the streets waving a white handkerchief, crying – don’t shoot, there are children in the school – as snipers shatter the windows that your children, your siblings, that kid you don’t even know the name of, gaze out from instead of writing down their poetry assignment.
How do you do it? How do you give, not a delicate, but an authentic voice? How do you capture that innocence that slipped out the same time the consistency of their stomach melted into fast-flowing diarrhoea – that was when the first gunshot sliced through their mattress as they said good night. And then when you’ve done it once, twice, El Salvador, Congo, China, Russia – how do you go back? How do you write that story, from that other perspective, the smell of someonelse’s fear clogging your mouth, another language screaming for the mercy of God. How do you keep on writing? How do you maintain that concept of a ‘delicate importance’. When do you become apathetic, so sick of the bestiality of human nature, that you become one. A beast. Hating the victims and the perpetrators.
How, I cry, can innovative writing do that? How can I? How can mankind do that?!