Monday, January 18, 2010

After shocks

Yesterday, after being away from internet and television for about four days, I found myself in the parlour of the house where I was being hosted in Kaduna, watching CNN coverage of the continuing devastation in Haiti. I cried. I am not as jaded, perhaps, as I would have been had I been watching it nonstop for the last four days. I was not yet glutted on the tragedy-scoops. The horrors of the earthquake in Haiti make all of the news of the past few months--the hysteria about the near miss with terrorism on Christmas Day (in which no one was actually killed), the madness over the disappearance of Nigeria's president--seem like children's quarrels. There are politics there, certainly. Peter Hallward points out in a Guardian article "Our role in Haiti," that
"Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more "natural" or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered."

The poverty in Haiti is indicative of larger global injustices. I tried to donate online to relief efforts and couldn't because apparently the foundation I was trying to donate to would not accept money from an IPS in Nigeria. There are many ironies here--there are certainly many Nigerians who would like to join the global effort to help Haiti but even if our IP address were accepted what about global structures which mean that only those elite Nigerians who have lived abroad have access to credit cards? How do poor/rich people in Nigeria, labeled a "nation of interest" in the "war against terrorism" help earthshaken people in Haiti? Why is it that there were international volunteers working to save people trapped in hotels and not so many in ordinary homes? Why is it that the UN sent doctors back because they feared it wasn't safe? As if it is safe for anyone... for any of those people lying in tent hospitals because those hospitals that were already there had collapsed in the mindless thrust of the earth? The quake exposes global political fault lines as well as physical ones.

But ultimately, in the face of such great devastation, there is so little room left for outrage. The loss is too overwhelming. Human mistakes and squabbles and politics are dwarfed by the incomprehensible nature of the earth rising up and shaking down schools and homes and palaces--crushing children and mothers and teachers and politicians and journalists and UN representatives. Postal workers and cooks and students and grocers and doctors. There is no one to blame in these moments when the earth shakes but God himself. And yet what do we make of those hymns drifting out of the open parks where people are camped, homeless, and through news channels into the parlours of those of us in middleclass Nigeria, where the light has come back for a few hours, and we sit, and we watch, and we cry, and we listen. To the voices of those people singing who have lost everything, like the voices of those I woke to last November at 6am, women and children in our house, as Jos burned around us. Women and children and those young men, who were not yet patrolling, who had run with only small bags in their night clothes to the university. Refugees all. Singing.

A few hours later after I cried over the stories on CNN and we went to church and came back, my friend started receiving phone calls that there were problems in Jos. She is a student at the National Film Institute in Jos, and I had come to Kaduna with her and another mutual friend who is a Hausa film actor and director. For the next few hours we texted back and forth with family and friends in Jos. No one still seems quite sure what happened, but there is once again a 6pm to 6am curfew over Jos, and my parents tell of people our friends know who have died. Here are a few articles I've been able to find, from NEXT, BBC, and Al-Jazeera. And two more later articles from Next: "Police Restore Calm in Jos" and "Jos Residents Besiege Displaced Person's Camp." It seems that at root, it was a quarrel over land, over rebuilding a house that had been burnt in the last crisis. The feud spilled over into gangs wielding fire and machetes--destroying newly rebuilt buildings, killing the children who survived the killing last year. The skin slowly creeping over the wound is ripped open again. Once again it is Muslims against Christians and Christians against Muslims and "those Hausas always causing trouble," as the endless online commentary goes, so quick to assign blame to those who are not "us."

I am not in Jos now. It is hard not knowing what is going on. I remember last November but feel distant. I am not there. And there are no CNN stories showing families weeping over bodies.

When I come back to Kano and my laptop and go online, I discover that it is Martin Luther King Day in America, and a friend has posted part of this as her Facebook status update:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I try to find where the quote is from, and I find this 1957 sermon that apparently re-stated (pre-stated) much of what is in the quote (although not exactly): "Loving Your Enemies."

I am still trying to wrap my head around the connections here:

The violent rupture of the earth in an island nation not far from where i was born, the after shocks that heave and tremble long afterwards.

And the violent explosions born of both love of home and hatred for the other--all tied up in the earth and belonging and who owns what and who belongs where. It breaks, breaks, breaks across the land that divides north from south, the coast from the sahel. It threatens to break us all, and what do we have left? When will the light come back? How long can we keep singing?

"Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." This is the way the quote my friend posted ends, but in King's 1957 speech he continues, "Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction"

So do we end with love or do we end with destruction?

Can love overwhem hate?

Will it save us in the end?

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