Tag Archives: history

#156 ~ Commonwealth

There’s something uncomfortable about the term. It pertains to riches whilst eliding the poverty. It expresses the vast amount of good, but makes it out to be a gratuity. I guess I’m trying to figure out how I feel about the Monarchy and my British History.

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#100 ~

Marked the centennial post

And just like history, in retrospect you acknowledge the greatness

Yet at the time you have nothing to say.

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#92 ~ Look UP

As a tall individual, from a young age I grew accustomed to moulding my body in order to ‘fit in’. This practice took on a range of manifestations. The slight bend of the neck which was glamourised by Horatio Cane in CSI Miami, the curved back which many a lanky rock star utilises, the bent knee-walk beautifully demonstrated by Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, and most importantly, the lowering of the eyes as seen by all who hold the medal of being over 5″4. We embrace our world through the shortened perspective of what we think is the average. Our peripheral vision is squeezed out by a mentally conjured glaucoma, and sooner or later the chewing-gum, quat stained pavements become our blue-diamond sky lines.

Irrespective of height really, as people we seem to have this tendency to look down, burying ourselves into the gravitationally challenged domain of insects. And I don’t think it’s because our lives have become too busy, or because we rush and are impatient. I think it’s simply that we sometimes forget to step outside of ourselves, whether that be our lethargy, our self-importance, our own intelligence, pride, humility, everything that is us, and see things a-new.

I live in a beautiful college that has witnessed 500 years worth of human history. I pass through weather-beaten oak doors daily, walking over cobbled streets and stones, climbing up winding staircases inside medieval turrets that are so sheer I wonder I don’t break my elegantly bent neck one day.

And through it all, though every morning I wake up beside a quietly running river, run across a 300 year old poorly paved bridge, see the reflection of dusk painting a mirage on stained glass windows, I never see it. I never look up.

Today i stood aimlessly looking over the archway into my academic home. I was singing softly to myself as you do, the sun was slowly warming my Primark covered shoulders, and then I saw. The pale and flaking red paint that caressed the petals of the Tudor Rose, the gilt framed portcullis of Parliament. The, what I perceived to be daisies, curling over green vines, and in the middle two mythical goat like creatures, which Wikipedia tell me are Yales. From above the crest rises the magnificent wings of a soaring Eagle, poised with pride and power, strength and beauty.

The enormous weight of History pressed into me, tugged at me, and a sense of unity overcame me. I was part of this. I was part of this legacy. I was a member of this institution, I had a claim to this beauty. Me and my house for ever and ever.

And then I passed underneath. There wasn’t a miraculous transformation, I wasn’t vacuumed back to when the college was founded, or before when the monastery and hospital occupied that space. I was still wearing my nylon harem pants with the singed holes from when I sat too close to a fire. Yet I began to look up, and i noticed, really noticed so much more around me. The statue of a woman who guards second court, the bloodied lips of faces that ornate a glass top hat shaped structure that sits on top of Hall.

If we never look up, we’ll never see the grace and beauty that flies over our heads daily, we may never realise that we are here, have been here. That we are part of something. We may never appreciate even a fraction of what that something is. So look up with pride and expectation. Look up and smile.

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#85 ~ Ararat

What is the greatest  act of genocide man can enact? Is it the systematic eradication of a race? The slow torture and obliteration of the very scent, sign, or inclination of their existence? Is it the removal of a name? A language? A faith, a culture and eventually a history?

Can we be consigned to silence?

Or rather, within the silence that permeates our lives, is there a definitive version of the truth?

Because silence breathes. It lives, it eats, it moves. It encroaches, and if you listen hard enough it speaks. We often think its voice is timid, muted, creeping along the floorboards, tugging at our trouser leg like an intimidated child, trying but not really wanting, to get our attention. We think it is shy, it suffers from a speech impediment, and therefore lets its older sibling Noise steal the lime-light. Often we believe that Silence is in an intimate relationship with the very distant relative who is ‘accidentally’ excluded from family events, Death. Their love, we assume, is a deep love, sensuous, perverse, and all-encompassing. It is inescapable making them symbiotic beings, intertwined, intermingled, like the ecstatic eye-beams of Donne’s erotic Ecstasy. They begin to allude to one another, Silence becomes Death just as Death becomes Silence.

But Silence has her own story. At times it is contrapuntal to History. That’s right, her cousin History. He is the ‘nerdy’ one. You often find him in the library till the early hours of the morning, sometimes just waiting for waking sunbeams to strike the corners of his lenses, illuminating a missing fragment of a forgotten letter. Yet even the stories that History tells as they sit round the bonfire, eagerly awaiting the creation of new lands, new voices, new people and characters, Silence has heard and seen before. Look closely and she is there. Watching that dawn break, peeping quietly over his shoulder to also read, also interpret and also remember that forgotten piece of text.

Silence speaks loud and clear and often. In fact she speaks the most. She resides within the breaths that Noise hurriedly snatches from her permeating tranquility. Neither is she confined to the external, but gently caresses your mind,when you sleep, when you wake, she is speaking. She steals into the fragile pages that History greedily consumes, at every blink of his eye she eats her way further and further into the story until she is immersed, she has merged, she is the story. Even within History she is present, sometimes unseen, unacknowledged, simply ignored because she appears to be of no harm, but she is there waiting.

Waiting for one question.

Why?

When you ponder aloud, when you actively read and simply ask that question, even if it’s – but why was he called that? – she will answer. She will tell you another story, one that History missed, or didn’t think was good enough for his bonfire tales.

Silence will sing you a lullaby. Sometimes it is joyful, often mournful, it may be long, tedious, confusing and convoluting, but her voice is sweet. If you can stay awake long enough, if you are lured by the siren that hides deep within this stuttering-child, you may be enticed to ask more questions. To say that word again, that question, yes, why?

Silence speaks in the fiction that dares to ask another question. The fiction that dares to approach Mount Doom from the raging eyes of a vulnerable, insecure, inflamed eye, and not the golden hearted hobbits with cut feet and stomachs full of lembas bread. Fiction dares to give the archetypal nemesis who raped and ravaged the body of child of 5, the exposure of his humanity, fragile as it may be, as he tends the ailing body of his mother, eaten up by cancer, his depravity acknowledged alongside other parts of his fractured identity. Fiction dares to acknowledge the massacre of the Armenia people and their genocide of 1915, which, if acknowledged is consigned deep in the recesses of memory,

What is the greatest act of genocide a man can enact?

To remove the voice of Silence, by preventing fiction from capturing memory, and within that, perhaps not the  but a truth that informs us of someone’s very real, very human, identity.

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#43 ~ I’ve done Africa

It is so exhilarating when you meet young people with a heart for social justice, ‘human rights’, development, education, aid. It reaches a new level of excitement when those ideas aren’t confined to the rhetoric of socio-political speech but are transformed into action. What is annoying, is when underneath all of that, lies a veneer of condescension, superiority and deep ignorance.

Speaking to someone this morning they had it all. The speech, the action and i assume the ignorance as well. They had travelled the world building wells, teaching English, doing community projects, fighting the instigation of anti-homosexual laws in ‘Africa,’ and yet they still responded to that continent as a country. Where would you like to focus your humanitarian aid or interests? Well, i’ve done Africa. Oh really. Which countries  have you ‘done’. Oh, well i’ve been to Uganda and Kenya.

I’m sorry. So because you’ve spent six weeks in Ugandan and a few in Kenya, you have suddenly covered, had an interest and invested in that whole continent, all 50+ of its countries? You have not only understood the vast multitudes of people, literary-musical cultures, histories, religions, politics of the whole of Uganda and Kenya, but also of West Africa, Southern Africa, and not forgetting the Arabic Northern Africa. My, what a guy you must be.

Q: If you had one area that you could focus on what would it be?

A: Education, because without it nothing else works. Then agriculture, medicine, human rights, there’s just so much to do!

Now, I’m all for education.Personally i believe illiteracy in the world we live in is a form of child abuse. But education, as I have recently learnt, is a two way thing. The teacher both teaches and is taught by the pupil. What kind of education are we in the West hoping to give these ‘poor third-world countries,’ enslaved to the barbarism of ‘tribes and tribal conflict,’ with obscure female subjugatory cultures? Is it the colonised education that saw the destruction of these cultures that are only now trying to restore their fragmented identity? The education that propagates Western ideals instead of aligning them with their own cultural and national concerns? An education that thrives on enshrining our ‘democratic, tolerant and pro-human rights’ culture as the  way to live, simultaneously disregarding the rich cultural and socio-political history of these ‘foreign’ lands, which funnily enough, in the case of the Yoruba people of West Africa and predominantly Western Nigeria, had a democratic system before the Greeks. Or the Igbo people of Eastern Nigeria whose political system depends on the support of the ‘Adahs’, the first born daughters of the village. Before any political decision is made, the men must give the proposal to the first daughters. If they refuse, it’s like a bill being sent back to the House of Commons to be re-drafted. Before any father is buried, their daughter has the say on when, where. In Igbo land, Beyonce will proudly get the answer that in their own vital way, girls run the world. That seems pretty pro-women’s rights?

I’m not going to say ‘Africa’ and her 56 countries has it all sorted. Far from it. But the condescending attitude that people place upon it alongside Asia, the Middle East, everything bar Europe and Northern America irritates me. It’s as if these ‘post-colonial, tribal, war-mongering, poor, culturally fragmented’ people are one huge writhing mass of flesh. They all fit the same description, the same needs and most importantly have the same history. They have an homogenous identity, proclaiming ‘We are one’ as Simba proudly states in Lion King 2.

No. No ‘we’ are not. Just as people don’t say – I’ve seen Europe- when they come to London, or travel to Paris. In fact, they tend to be even more specific – I’ve seen the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, but i wish i could have gone to the South of France.    Or, i’ve been to Central London, but I wish i could’ve gone to the Lake District. Geography seems to count for ‘us’ in the West.

It is no wonder that ‘Africa, Asia and the terrible Middle East,’ have yet to find a solution to their problems when no one seems to know about their problems. If I stated: China has the highest abortion rate in the world, and someone responded –   Oh my word, the Chinese are so cruel – I think a Chinese person would be extremely unimpressed and look at said person as being an ignorant twit. Not to mention, people from other countries and cultures wouldn’t feel particularly enlightened and therefore know how to respond.

If, however, I stated – China is a country that lacks the natural resources needed to maintain its population. After the cultural revolution there was a big push to build up the Chinese people to become a national force to be reckoned with. However, the sky-high birth rates put a vast strain on their resources economically and agriculturally. China is also a country, like most nations and cultures in the world  which is patriarchal and where having a son, especially historically, was a favoured option because  men made up the workforce whilst women – just like in most nations and cultures across the world – ran the household.  China made the decision for a one-child policy in order to prevent a nationwide famine and starvation. Their histo-cultural concept on gender has meant that when women fall pregnant they are encouraged to keep the baby if it is a boy, but abort it if it is a girl. This has led to the largest female infanticide in modern history, and also meant that many women are now being smuggled out of North Korea to fill the gap.’

My. Suddenly not only are you more informed of the situation, but ‘CHINA’ has not been demonised. One can understand that there were a range of other factors apart from some ‘genetically inherent Chinese cruelty’ that led to the methods put in place, which has now had drastic and unforeseen knock on effects not only in terms of the type of abortion that is happening, but the quality of life of the Chinese and these North Korean women that are being smuggled into the country. One could go on and on looking at the particulars of the problems that have arisen, but most importantly they can acutely and intelligently look at how to alleviate the situation alongside  the work that the Chinese government is doing. 

My point is this, China is not perfect, the ‘third-world’ is not perfect, funnily enough, neither is this Utopian ‘first world.’ As humans we move in a cycle of prosperity and destitution. In order to change that circle into a flat line leading to global equilibrium, one must understand that whilst Europeans were still going unbathed, with the majority still illiterate, the Songhai Empire dominated Western Africa. Astronomers and mathematicians of the Mali Empire that went before the Songhai were putting into motion the bane of most Western Teenagers lives – Algebra exams. Whatever economical empire America or China or the EU are trying to create, Genghis Khan got their first.

If we understand that these people who are in dire straits at the moment, and who do to some degree need a helping hand, need serious input in their failing economies, their corrupt politics and their social disruption did not just crawl out of the desert, half formed, incapable, an immediate and selfish drain on the IMF and World Bank, but have gone through this cycle, then maybe we’ll know how to help. We will realise, instead of ignoring a lot of the cultural taboos and issues, the historical problems that have fuelled their present states. And with that knowledge in hand we will learn how to help, and how not to help.

You cannot ‘do Africa.’ Moreover, there are plenty of children in the UK who can’t string one grammatically correct sentence together in their own ‘superior’ language that is English, before we start trying to educate children who are often multilingual, and  want  to learn. Why don’t we focus on firstly ‘doing’ our own countries, and then ‘understanding’ other peoples. It’s just a thought.

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