Category Archives: musings

Sometimes I Want To Write

I see things, hear things, try to make sense of them, and writing helps me understand it all; what I think I witnessed, what emotions coursed through me, my response, and how (if) that reaction changed the situation. Or what the experience just taught me about the world. I love writing.  I didn’t know that before I started movingblack – it was more of a challenge I set myself – but I found I proper love using words to express the myriad of thoughts that I have about the world and my adventures in it.

If you’ve followed this blog for more than a week, you’ll have realised I’m kind of a fraud.  (Though I secretly prefer the term renegade) I’m not a blogger.  At least, not a good one.  I don’t blog frequently anymore, nor with anything resembling a rhythm. I get off topic easily and most posts exceed 1000 words.  I am slow at replying to comments, and my blog doesn’t seem to be a community of its own.  I am not a good blogger.  (So, if you’ve left a comment I’ve taken ‘a while’ to reply to, it’s nothing personal at all.  I only struggle with internet etiquette,  I’m really polite in reality.)  I figure, I’m not a surgeon, nobody’s life depends on being able to read a new blog post from me, so I don’t beat myself up about it too often. Plus I have a day job and plenty of real-world commitments and I’ve had one hell of a writer’s block for months now.  But then I read this piece by Radical Faggot and it all made sense again.

I need to write. Not for you dear reader, nor even for me, but because as Chimamanda once argued, there really is a danger in a single story.  By writing, I contribute to the existence of multiple narratives.  Of every thing, person and place I write about.  To me, this is crucial because multiple narratives sharpen the mind.  When multiple narratives present themselves simultaneously, a choice is necessary because questions arise; who said what?  When?  In what context?  Why?  What are their interests?  Are they reliable?  Consistent?  Revolutionary? Do I agree with their standpoint?  What does that change?  Are the available narratives the only narratives?  The most important? What is missing?  Who is missing?  Where multiple contradictory narratives exist, critical thinking happens.  No statement can be taken at face value; by virtue of a second, third, fourteenth version of the same story, holes appear, through which the truth starts to poke.  Sometimes.

So I guess this is a statement of intent to blog*, inspired by a blog post entitled ‘the political significance of being inconvenienced.’  The politics of rad fag are just On Point.  As committed an armchair activist as I claim to be, the one action I can take relatively frequently is to simply state my Afro-Caribbean/British/Migrant/French-Speaking/Girl truth.

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I’m currently processing a fabulous Haitian adventure, so watch this space.   And follow Radical Faggot for powerful political commentary of the radical variety.  Plus, they post frequently.

 

 

 

* Disclaimer: in my haphazard, wordy, unrecommended-by-wordpress way

Who in Harlem or Port-of-Spain Remembers Claudia Jones?

I think I might have a country crush on Trinidad and Tobago.  As a country, it simply fascinates me and there’s a startling number of paradigm-shifting black radicals who were born and raised there which may explain why.  Claudia Jones is just the latest to set fire to my imagination.

I’m also a big fan of carnival.  In the part of London where I grew up, I felt like I was the only black girl whose parents didn’t make sure they participated in Notting Hill’s festivities in full costume, even though in the days before the jubilee line extension and the overground line, Notting Hill was FAR.  Some kids participated every single year throughout primary school.  We went as a family every year, but I wasn’t ‘in’ carnival.  My happy hippy school, wider community and black-and-proud family nevertheless ensured that I had it drummed into me that Notting Hill Carnival was an important expression of our Caribbean culture, and was also to be celebrated as an act of remembrance of our place in British history.

I thus grew up knowing the name of Claudia Jones as she was ‘the mother of Carnival’.  What she created sixty-odd years ago as an indoor event designed to demonstrate that Caribbean culture was joyous and valuable, not simply alien and inferior, is now the biggest street party in Europe. Continue reading

Tanzanian Dust on a Trini’s Travelling Shoes

By Chike Pilgrim

Dust covers my shoes as I walk the city center. The city of Arusha, in northern Tanzania, has its share of high rise buildings, and is well paved, complete with concrete sidewalks. But I’ve walked an hour now, in the cool weather, from Njiro, and that part of Arusha is typical of much of eastern Africa, which means that pedestrians like me are battling dust or mud depending on the time of year.

Dust on my shoes and on the lower part of my jeans immediately classify me as a man without a car, and even without a piki-piki, the name for the motorbikes that buzz around the town like so many enormous flies. My dusty appearance may mean some trouble when I step into a more high-end store, until I open my mouth and speak my halting Kiswahili, effectively identifying myself as a foreigner and therefore someone who can most likely afford to buy the store’s items.

A Maasai, in full traditional clothing, strides past me. He may be on some sort of business. He may be headed to the part of the city where Maasai men gather to examine tanzanite, the extremely rare bluish-purple precious stone that Arusha is famous for. He may be on his way to work as a security guard for one of the wealthy United Nations expatriates that operate in Arusha. These “expats” usually work at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, a UN operation that houses many lawyers and technical staff. He may be selling nuts and cigarettes for all I know.

The Maasai have become part of the everyday experience for me, although in the first few months of my stay in Arusha, I was awe-struck every time I saw Maasai. With staffs, swords, ear-piercings, shaved heads and brightly colored Maasai clothing, Maasai seem to me to be defiant time-travelers from a long lost, Africa I romanticized. However cell-phones and cars mark them as regular inhabitants of the 21st century.

Most Maasai seem to walk though, to prefer walking, as I do. I have heard of those that would walk from Arusha to the neighboring city of Nairobi in Kenya during the period of one week – over one hundred and fifty miles. Their sandals, made from the rubber of used car tires, facilitate these treks, as do their physical endurance and how accustomed they have become to the relatively harsh landscape and the cold.

And Arusha gets cold for a Caribbean man like myself; twenty degrees centigrade in the day, falling even to eight and six degrees at night. Freezing really. Although close to the equator, this area is cold because of its elevation, and that is understandable. In addition, the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Mount Kilimanjaro, is quite close to Arusha.

Kili, as she is affectionately called, hides herself in fog most of the time, and I had to take an hour’s drive just to see her. She’s beautiful and breathtaking, but she is not to be underestimated; attempting to climb her can cost you your life. Even the wind that blows down from her is no joke.

A middle-aged Chinese couple and a young European man with a huge beard pass me on the sidewalk, stopping to buy pineapple slices at the side of the road. Their Kiswahili is not bad. In fact, it’s better than mine. Maybe they took lessons before they left their countries. Maybe they live and work here.

My experience here has taught me that judging people based on appearance is misleading, even harmful. My first guess would be that they are tourists though. Arusha does see more than its share of visitors. Some come to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Some come to visit the Serengeti and watch the animal migrations. Some have come to Olduvai Gorge, one of the oldest archaeological sites in the world, made famous by the Leakys. Some have no clear aim, like myself: kizunguzungu, dizzy voyagers who have come to see “Africa” or for whom Arusha is simply another stop on a global sojourn.

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Chike Pilgrim is a writer and historian from Trinidad and Tobago. He’s recently completed an MPhil at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine entitled “Black Helix: The 1970 Black Power Movement in the light of Pan Africanism.” He’s deeply interested in ancient History, particularly that of East Africa and the ‘Middle East’.

My Challenge: Composing Travel Narratives when Edward Said’s Ghost is Looking Over My Shoulder :(

I really hate Edward Said.  May he rest in peace.

I love his work.

Orientalism is one of those books, after which you’re never the same again.  As a thinker, I am hugely indebted to it.  But as a travel writer, Said and Orientalism are a bit like disapproving parents, watching me carefully, with my fear of disappointing them sometimes preventing me from speaking at all.

Every time I think about writing or about starting a post about a place I’ve been, or an experience I’ve had while travelling, I have a mini-heart attack.

‘Do I sound like an orientalist?’  I worry.  And stop writing.

I am black, so I didn’t simply understand Orientalism as Said detailed it, I felt it.

Having grown up black in a white space in which everyone is constantly bombarded with images of your blackness as a negative, I know what it means to be defined by people who don’t know you.  Or don’t like you.  And don’t know what they’re talking about.   Who leave you to deal with the consequences.

I know the frustration, the pain, and bristle at the injustice.

So I can write about travel from time to time, but I can’t be an Orientalist.  O the shame if I were!

I’m still idealistic enough that I believe that I can write interestingly about travel while keeping ‘them’ and ‘us’ binaries out of my work.  I can refuse to bow to that still-popular discourse of difference.  It is not required that I fetishise or exoticise the places I visit and the people I meet. And it does matter that I try.  Right?

Where is the Orient anyway?  I once asked.  Geographically, I meant. It was a legitimate question.  Does it include Turkey?  China? Iraq?  Japan? Morcocco?  Mali?  Egypt?  Lebanon? Vietnam? The orient and the occident.  East and West.  Geographical opposites.  Ideological binaries in a spinning spherical world.

What I learned from Edward Said is that there is no such place as ‘the orient’.  It’s not a continent.  It’s not a country.  It’s not even a region.  It’s an entirely imaginary space.  People (yes, nineteenth century Europeans primarily) wanted to describe some cultures and customs more similar to each others’ than to their own – in the Europeans’ version of events – and thus came up with a way of describing them: The orient aka the other.

Among the Europeans themselves there was no consensus of what exactly constituted The Orient.  For the French it included Mali, and Morocco, for the British it sometimes included India and China, but no place in Africa.  They both usually included Turkey, but not always, and the Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Prussians, and Italians all had their own versions of the orient presumably.  It was and remains, all very imprecise and rather unclear. Yet the concept remained useful so somehow, it stuck.

Orientalism was all the rage in nineteenth century Europe; learning languages with ‘different’ alphabets, trying out ‘different’ dress modes, learning about ‘different’ customs and religions, this was the height of cool.

This fashion coincided of course with the period of imperial expansion/consolidation of the colonial powers of the day:  thus Orientalists were on the scene as the good guys, enthusiastically learning about the cultures and lifestyles their fellow countryfolk were in the process of dismantling, often quite consciously and for ‘their’ own good ‘they’ liked to say.  A rather interesting marriage from this vantage point.

What Said explained is that The Orient is a euphemism for difference.  A space which is absolutely different, it was never supposed to be real.  It’s a projection of fears and fantasies, a diametrical opposite of all that is presupposed as European, and an authoritative interpretation of someone else’s reality.

Tell that to the news anchors talking about ‘the Middle East’ (le moyen orient in French).  I’m always tempted to ask, so is that east of the middle? Or middle of the East?  Can a spinning sphere even be said to have an ‘East’ and ‘West’?  Cos surely, from say, Sri Lanka, Syria is definitely west?    And from these parts (the Caribbean)  it’s halfway across the world, and as much North East as it is North West.

That’s it’s so hard to define geographically, and ideologically f*cked up, is why I hate to use the words ‘them’ and ‘us’ in my writing.  It’s why I can’t hack the term ‘Western civilisation’ or ‘Western’ anything that’s not tied to a specific geographical entity on my Peter’s Projection map.  It’s why I don’t write ‘from the road’, hesitate before writing about a place I spent a couple of weeks in, and it’s why I sometimes struggle to write at all.

Cos I’d hate to be an orientalist.

Today’s orientalist is a lot like yesteryear’s; someone who becomes an expert on somebody else’s country/culture/customs/language.  And somehow ends up having a louder voice than people who claim the country/culture/customs/language as their own.

Cos that’s the problem with orientalism:  it’s also about power.  It’s not just about one random person spouting off highly debatable ‘truisms’.  It’s about how one narrative is reinforced by other fellow foreigners, until it becomes The Narrative about that place or those people etc etc.

Those people.

Cos that’s what orientalists do.  They specialise in difference.  They highlight how ‘they’ are not like ‘us’ and it’s rarely done from a place of equality.  Where difference is valuable, interesting even; proof of the ability of humans to adapt to their surroundings and realities and be infinitely creative.  ‘Difference’ tends, in the world of orientalists, to be exotic.  Exciting.  For ‘our’ benefit.

Rarely is difference mere evidence of fellow humans occupying another space and organising themselves how they see fit.

Too often, Difference is to be highlighted, prodded at, giggled at, ridiculed, judged, experienced, consumed.  Cos where it suits us, difference offers a space to escape the norms we don’t like in our own societies.

Similarity does not get a second glance in the world of the orientalists.  Poor bugger.

So even though I’ve been up and down of late,  I’ve been struggling to put pen to paper, cos I’m trying to avoid being an orientalist.  It’s also why I don’t write reams about Martinique despite my current perma-foreigner status and the many adventures that brings.

But life has been as exhilarating and chaotic as usual, so as soon I find a way to relay my adventures in a way that doesn’t stamp on the dignity of the people I share them with, you’ll read them here first!

xxx

NB If you think Orientalism sounds interesting, but don’t fancy reading the book, you can check out Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk The Danger of a Single Story on youtube.  I think she’s kinda saying the same thing.

Seven Reasons To Visit Nigeria ASAP

It’s not often that artistic genius seamlessly meets serious political commentary.  But it seems to happen all the time in Nigeria.  There’s no less-dramatic way to say it so, in a nutshell, Nigerian artists have changed my life.  I’ve never been there, which is perhaps why Nigerian storytelling has not just captured my imagination, it has demonstrated the boundless possibilities of literature. Over the years I’ve heard so much about Nigeria from (admittedly annoying) patriotic Nigerians that it’s long been number two (reasons to visit, number one, Ghana can be found here) on my Must-See West African Countries list (you have one of those right?) nobel_treeplantingIt may well be true that stories grow on trees in West Africa.  I love Nigeria for gracing me with an abundance of stories that are at once 100% rooted in a specific locale, embroidered with such detailed analysis of the universal, and told through fully-formed African characters. I frequently lose myself, investing totally in outcomes which are fictional creations based on somebody else’s reality.  If there’s any one country, where a lot of my favourite novels come from, it’s Naija.  A fiction festival in Nigeria would look a lot like heaven to me. With no further ado, here’s seven reasons to be ridiculously excited about going to Nigeria: Continue reading

On Voluntourism

by Zahra Dalilah

AKA Affecting Real Change as a Young Brit with No Experience in Development.

The world we live in today is a beautiful place in many ways. It is more diverse and interconnected than ever, giving those who can afford it the privilege of travelling to a vast array of new and exciting horizons to drink in new settings, new cultures and new ways of living.

Freedom some may call it, and it is here for us to enjoy!

But of course, this is not the case everywhere or for everyone.

Ever-so-often we are reminded of the saddening plight of those less fortunate, be it through a charity song at Christmas or just a passing advertisement on daytime television. This of course makes us want to react, to do something about this situation so that we can share the joy and goodness that we see in our own communities every day. Right? Continue reading

Mesi anchay, Thanks a bunch, Merci beaucoup

Thank you for reading movingblack.

Whether you just fell upon this blog today or you’ve been reading since the first posts I published, if you’ve read more than 2 posts, thank you.  The more you’ve read here, the higher the likelihood you’ve waded through the better, worse, more and less clumsy and longer and shorter of my attempts at articulating what makes perfect sense in my head.   Sometimes.  I therefore salute you. Continue reading