soldiers


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I’ve been asked about my “anger” many times. What do you have to be “Angry” about? Why are you the “Angry African”? Why indeed…

I would rather have a good meal. Maybe help my wife prepare the food. Get the table ready. Talk about whether we should have brocolli or peas or carrots to go with the maple syrup chicken and roast potatoes she just made. That’s what I would rather do. Just have a good meal together with my family. Sitting at the table and laughing at the silliness of my daughters. Making funny noises and joking with their mother. Good times. Me, my family and a good meal. I would rather have a good meal. No need for anger here.

But how can I? How can I just have a meal when I know that somewhere out there in Zambia is a family arguing about how they divide the last of the nsima. Maybe this will be the last meal they share together. Because tomorrow brings no food and no hope. Maybe tomorrow the kids will have to go down to the charity handing out food and slip some away for ma and pa back home. But will grandma make it? Can she wait another 24 hours before she gets a little something to eat. No laughing or poking of fun. Not when the bones on their bodies are poking hard at their skin. How can there be no anger?

I would rather watch telly. Just vegetate and do nothing. Stare blankly at the screen. Flip channels because I can’t decide between CSI Miami or Kitchen Nightmares. Or maybe I should watch that Bond movie I taped? Or watch Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King again? Yeah. That’s what I want to do. Just stare at the telly and think of nothing. No anger here.

But how can I? How can I stare at the telly when tonight someone might be staring at the barrel of a gun somewhere in the Congo? No channels for them to watch. Maybe tonight will be the last time they see anything. I can change the channel but they can’t change their lives. I can play with the remote but they are here. Waiting for me to think of them. Always hiding somewhere in my conscious. Waiting to flip the channel of my brain to their station. No static. Just their lives waiting to be changed while they live a reality life. How can there be no anger?

I would much rather read a good book. Maybe just finish one of the many I am reading right now. Should I go with Mao and his killing or read about hope through the eyes of Obama? Maybe just get away from all that stuff and laugh at Bill Bryson telling me about A Short History of Nearly Everything. Aah. That what I want to do. Just read my book and let my mind slip away for a little bit. No anger here.

But how can I? How can I read a book when tomorrow the children will go and work those cocoa fields? The pages they flip are the pages of their life going past. One empty page after the other. Or maybe it is a horror. The horror of their lives. Living a Stephen King life larger than even he can imagine. But maybe some khat will help numb the pain. At least it will take away the glint in their eyes. And the empty pages of their life can be seen in their empty stares. How can there be no anger?

I would much rather play with my kids. Play outside like the crazy gang we are. Wild splashing we call swimming down at the lake. And go down that snowy hill when winter comes. Just me and my girls. Crazy, crazy, crazy. All I want is to hear their laughing and more laughing at their silly dad. Egging them on. Come on! You can do it girl! That’s what I would much rather want. Me and my crazy girls. Having fun. No anger here.

But how can I? When the other kids are running away from the warlord down the road. Playing dodgeball with the bullets. Not a sound of joy and belly laughs to be heard coming from their mouths. Just cries of pain as the bullets hit. Lucky if it misses. Dodge, dodge, dodge. That the games they play in the Congo. How can there be no anger?

I would must rather lie next to my wife. Falling asleep and hearing her breathe next to me. I can feel the stress of the day just slip away. Here is where I belong. Always telling her how much I love her. I can never say it too much or too often. And I run home because that is where I want to be. Just there next to her. My lovely wife. The one who gives me meaning. No anger here.

But how can I? When the women in Africa have to walk miles and miles just to get a drop of water for their homes. Every day. Down to the river and back. In the rush forgetting to boil it clean. And they see their families die around them. From a simple thing like drinking dirty water. How can I look at my wife and not see those women carry Africa on their backs being beaten and beaten and beaten. Day in and day out. Rape and murder. That’s what lies next to them at night. Death and destruction giving them meaning. How can there be no anger?

I would much rather just go on holiday. Maybe take a trip to Europe and visit those fancy French. Some cheese and red wine. Aah, that’s the life. Or laugh and point at Mickey and Minnie down at Disney. Maybe get away for just a week or two and visit my friend back home. Another trip to Bucks County would be nice. Just me and my three girls. Hanging out in New Hope for a drink and maybe a small piece of memory for the mantle. No anger here.

But how can I? When the only break my people get is another trade deal that fails. Or another empty promise for those dying of aids or malaria. Or the breaking of another leg as the torture continues in countries down South and East. But also here in the North and West. Broken promises to go with their broken lives. How can there be no anger?

I really just want to hang with my friends. Or drink a coffee by myself. Sip by sip. A braai and a good old fire. Learn to play the guitar like I’ve always wanted. Or write that bloody book that’s been bugging me for years. Save some money and retire early. Go for a drive in my car to watch the leaves go all rainbow in fall. The good things. That’s all I ever really want to do. Take it easy and stay easy. A smile, a laugh and good times.

I don’t want anger. I hate anger. It’s not nice. And it is not me.

Why am I angry?

I know happiness. I know what it is. I have it. Oh boy, do I have it. But I can’t enjoy it. At least not the way I want to enjoy it… Fully. I want to give myself totally to happiness. I want to live my happy days by throwing myself at it. Just living it 24/7.

That’s what pisses me off. That I can’t just enjoy life because of bigots. Because of liberty for some. Equality for those who can afford it. Freedom for those who were born free. Justice for those at the top.

I am angry because I can’t enjoy my life thanks to oppression of others. My right to have a fun time is shot to hell because of the rights of others being shot to hell. Bullet by bullet. Every warlord pisses me off because they remind me of what I am missing because of them. They are taking away my happiness because they are taking away the happiness of others.

I am angry because my friends and people I don’t even know can’t just love who they want. I love my wife. I love my wife. But the more I love her the more I am reminded of those who can’t love the way we love. That their love is somehow less meaningful than our love. I am pissed at bigots taking away happiness because they are taking away the rights of others.

I am pissed and angry for purely selfish reasons. I don’t want to fight for the rights of kids to have a shot at a life. I don’t want to fight for justice in the world trade and aid system. I don’t want to fight for the freedom of African women. I don’t want to fight for the equality of my gay friends who want to get married. I don’t want to fight for the liberty of the slaves working the sweatshops or farms in China or Africa. I don’t want to do all this crap. I want nothing to do with any of this.

I. Do. Not. Want. To. Do. This.

I just want to sit back and enjoy my life. Just me, my girls and my friends. Happy times. Good times.

But I can’t. And that is what pisses me off. That is what makes me angry. That is what makes me the Angry African.

I can only go do nothing when there is nothing to be done. When others can afford to do nothing. When everyone has a shot. You bloody people. With your rights and freedoms and liberty and equality and justice. Just have it already.

Fuck. Dammit. And everything and anything else that go with that.

I am because we are. Ubuntu.

I can only stop caring about what to watch on telly when there is nothing to care about. I can only be happy watching my kids go crazy when you have a shot at happiness. I can only have the liberty to drink my coffee sip after slow sip when you have liberty. I can only have my braai in peace when you have peace. I can only be the equal of my wife when we all are equal. I can only have justice when you have justice.  My freedom is your freedom…

I can only be free when you are free.

I can only be me when you can be you.

Until then… I am the Angry African.

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I’ve never tried writing fiction. This is a first attempt. Written at midnight. Just a start. Just a beginning of a story that has been forming in my mind. But like I said, I am not a writer so see it as a first shot at something written very late at night. Let me know what you think.

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Waking Up

A blink and he is awake. It’s always like this. Just a blink and his eyes open and he is awake. Nothing but a blink. No tiredness and no dreams to remember. Just a blink and he is awake.

The darkness is total. There is no window to let the light seep in, but he doesn’t need any light yet. He just lies staring at the darkness for awhile; staring at the tin roof hidden in the darkness. Letting his eyes find the first signs of light and life. Any second now the tin roof stars will show themselves. A little spot of dull early morning light that fades through a tiny little hole, first one then another one and another one, turning the holes into dancing stars on the tin roof. His tin roof stars.

The tin roof stars dance around and pop up everywhere. Every nail that was ever used on the tin sheets of the roof is shining and dancing. Every hole left by the nails is a memory of better days; the days before it was a tin roof in a shanty town.

But he isn’t thinking of the memories of the holes. Not this morning. He is looking at the dancing stars to see if a brighter light will shine through any of the holes, because that spells trouble. A brighter light means a hole in the thick black plastic sheets that are spread out and tied down on the roof. These plastic sheets are the defense against the rains. A bright light is a leaking roof. But this morning there is nothing but dancing stars. He smiles into the darkness at his tin roof stars. Today is going to be a good day.

Slowly the shanty town morning noises seep through the walls. The far-off hooting of the taxis at the taxi rank a mile away. Telling the squatters they have space for a few people more and ready to go. The voices of women talking amongst each other as they walk through the narrow passageways between the shacks making their way to the taxi ranks to catch the early trucks selling fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetables they’ll need as they lay out their tables at the market before people come to buy their daily goods. Taxis and women are the shanty town voices of the morning.

He’ll be at the market a bit later this morning, buying an apple or banana on his way looking for work. And so will his wife. She’ll be there before she comes home from her day looking for work, buying a potato or two, maybe some carrots to put in the stew that goes with the pap. The market is the main artery of the shanty town. It feeds the people who feed the shanty town.

But right now he just lies in bed and stares at his tin roof stars. And listen to the shanty town morning voices. He lies there for another twenty minutes or so. Slowly the room starts showing itself. But he doesn’t need to look at it. He knows where everything is. He’ll rather just look at his morning beauty, his wife lying next to him.

His wife never wakes up like him. She always takes her time waking up. He watches her every morning as she wakes up. It’s the perfect start to his day. It is life waking up to a new day.

She’s lying on her side cuddled up with the teddy bear he got her from the charity down the road. She starts with little moaning noises like a puppy dreaming. Then the waves start. Her body making slow rhythmic moves as she moves her arms and legs like some underwater dancer seducing the gods. This is when he knows she will open her eyes or whisper to him. The bed is too small for the two of them. Just a single bed mattress made for two. She turns around to stretch out but there is not space. Her hand hits his chest as she tries to stretch. Some mornings she gets a fright as if she didn’t expect someone to be lying there. Not him or anyone. But not this morning, this morning she starts with a smile. His morning beauty.

“Morning baby”, she whispers. Her eyes are still closed but she is smiling. That’s all he wanted, just a smile and a whisper. He kisses her softly on her lips and whispers back, “Molo Beauty”. He pulls the blankets a bit higher to cover her shoulders and then slowly slips out of bed. “Lie down Beauty. I’ll boil some water and make us something to eat”, he says to his wife as he leans forward and gives her another kiss on her forehead.

Thank God it is summer, he thinks to himself. He hates winter. It’s always a rush to get his clothes on before the coldness takes over. But in summer it is easy. He slips on the pair of jeans that has seen better days. More patches of denim and off-cuts than the original jeans. A shirt over his t-shirt and then his boots and he is ready.

He slowly walks over to the little paraffin lamp. Taking special care not to bump against the bed where his wife is still lying with her eyes closed. He picks up the matches lying next to the lamp and takes out one match before turning the knob on the lamp. And in what seemed like it was part of the same movement, he strikes the match and light the lamp while shielding the bright light with is hand. He turns the light down to a shimmer so save on paraffin and to not let it shine too brightly before his wife gets up. He’s done this a thousand times. He doesn’t even think about it anymore. It’s like flipping a switch.

He leans down to pick up the water bucket. It’s empty. His wife forgot to fill it last night. He smiles to himself. He remembers why she forgot. He looks over at her to say something but sees that her eyes are still closed. He shakes his heads with a smile, picks up the bucket and heads for the door. No need to get her out of bed. The taps aren’t far. It’s a quick walk to the community centre and he’ll be back in thirty minutes at most.  It’s one of the advantages of not having a steady job, you can take that extra thirty minutes to go and fill the water buckets. No boss to chase you around if you are late. Beauty will wait for him. It will be over before she knows he is gone. Well, almost. It will be quick. He’ll be back to make them some black coffee they can share in their little shack called home. A moment of peace before they take on their day.

(I am okay with it up to here. Still rough around the edges but it is more or less where I was hoping to go. The rest I am not sure about. Not sure I want to take it there, but thought I would leave it in for now.)

He just stepped outside the shack when he heard someone behind him. He knew who it was. It was Sipho, the boy next door. “Morning Sipho”, he whispered. Sipho was about to say something but he stopped him by waving his finger and whispering, “No Sipho. Beauty is still asleep. Do me a favor and keep an eye on her for me. I’ll buy you an apple today”. Sipho grinned and held up both his thumbs. That was a close one, he thought. Sipho is a great kid but is always making a noise to try and get his attention. He’ll make it up to him later and chase him around the shacks. That always gets Sipho going.

The walk to community centre was quick. He enjoys walking through the shacks this time of the morning when it’s not too busy. There are women walking to the taxi ranks to buy their goods but most people are just starting to wake up. You can still hear your footsteps on the hard ground this time of the morning. He was quickly lost in his own thoughts.

Thank God it’s too early for the queues, he thought to himself, just a few women filling up their containers. He goes to one of the taps and starts filling the bucket. He’s been away for about ten minutes now. Beauty will be up wondering where he is. She’ll see the bucket is gone though and know that he came to fetch water. She might even be getting some bread ready for them to eat together. He smiles thinking of how she always puts too much butter on his bread. She knows he loves butter and they can’t really afford it but she always somehow gets butter just for him.

The bucket is filled; time to go home and make some coffee. The walk back is more difficult because the bucket is heavy. He laughs to himself thinking about the women who carry the buckets on their heads. Men can’t do that. Their necks hurt and they can’t balance the buckets. Whoever thought that men are the tough ones should come to this shanty town and look at the weight that these women carry. He is always amazed at how Beauty carries such a heavy bucket as if it is nothing. His Beauty.

He was still deep in thought when he heard the shouting. It was coming closer to him. Louder and louder. Closer and closer. It was Sipho. He could make out that it was Sipho but he couldn’t make out what he was shouting. He dropped the bucket and started running towards the shouting; his heart pounding in his chest. Did she fall and hurt herself? Oh please let her be okay.

He could see Sipho dodging between the shacks as he was getting closer. Still shouting and calling for him. He didn’t even look where he was going. Sipho was just running like crazy. He kept on calling his name and shouting, “Jonas! Jonas! Quick!”. Sipho looked up while running and saw him coming towards him. He tried to shout for Sipho to calm down, “Sipho! Calm down! What is it?” Then he saw Sipho’s face. The face of fear.

And Sipho kept on shouting and shouting…

But all he could hear was, “It’s Beauty. They are taking her…”

I really don’t know where this post is going. It’s about heroes. But not sure… Let’s see.

I was doing the dishes tonight. Cleaning up after I had a fight with the barbeque. Oh I lost alright. The chicken burned and I ran out of gas midway. But that’s not the story.

I was doing the dishes and my lovely wife called me to say one of my favorite telly guys just won an Emmy. Stephen Colbert. Wish you could all see this guy. As sharp as a knife. Remember what he did to Bush in 2006 at the White House Correspondence Dinner? Go have a look here if you get the chance. (It is in three parts so please go look for part 2 and 3. It was worth it. I promise. And what the hell was Bush thinking Stephen Colbert was going to do?) Anyway… That took balls. In the lion’s den and he really went for it. And his show won again.

So I stopped doing the dishes and sat down on the couch to have a quick look at Stephen Colbert. I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t make a stronger political statement – he did it later when he joined Jon Stewart and they had a bit of a go at McCain. The old prune. I was about to get up when Steve Martin came on just after Stephen Colbert. I felt like having a laugh so stayed to watch him. And he introduced me to a new hero.

Tommy Smothers. Or Thomas Bolin “Tom” Smothers III as he is sometimes known. I won’t go into details of who he is. (Go here to see more on Wikipedia.) I didn’t know who he was. I was just watching Steve Martin make funny references about this guy. This guy who was going to get an Emmy for a show that hardly lasted more than a season back in the late 60s. Steve was funny, but I was about to get up when he did he speech and introduced the guy. For some reason I decided to stay and listen to what the guy had to say.

Well, maybe I stayed because Steve Martin told us how the show got cut because this guy got a little bit too political on his show. And how the guy didn’t want his name on the Emmy nomination back in the 60s because he thought that the other writers will stand less of a chance to win because of him. Honorable. And then he became my hero.

Just like that. This guy who could have had an easier life if he just kept quiet and did his show the way they wanted him to do it. Who could have had a much more successful career if he just kept his politics to himself. But he didn’t. He stood up for what he believed in. And he still does today.

I give you my new hero. And the words that made him my hero…

“It’s hard for me to stay silent when I keep hearing that peace is only attainable through war. And there’s nothing more scary than watching ignorance in action,” he said, dedicating his award to “all people who feel compelled to speak out, and are not afraid to speak to power, and won’t shut up and refuse to be silenced.”

That’s a hero. Someone who knows that there are easier ways. But only one right way. And a hero is someone who picks the right way.

Artists aren’t heroes. They are just celebrities. I like watching people like Colbert and Stewart. But they are paid do say what they say. They are good at it. They entertain me. But will they stay the same if the chips are down? Not all of them will. Bill Maher did. And he lost his job before everyone realized he was right. I don’t always agree with him. But he doesn’t pull punches. And never took the easy route.

But celebrities are just celebrities. Pretty people or funny people or “serious” actors. There to entertain us. Do they have a right to use this media for politics? Of course. They have an opinion and can use their medium just like everyone else. Like me. Like all of us. Just like NewsBusters and other right-wingers. I have no more knowledge than anyone else, but I use “my” medium to say what I want to say. And they have their medium. Some CEO’s use their mediums to influence politics. Why can’t actors? Charlton Heston did. And he is (was) loved by Republicans. Or rather by the pro-gun Republicans.

Hey Ronald Reagan was even voted into the office. And the role he was remembered best for was with a monkey. And no, I am not talking about Bush Sr, although I am sure he met Jr at some stage. And you know how I feel about Reagan. I didn’t like him then and I won’t start liking him just because he is dead. I saw the blood that came because of him. But this isn’t about Reagan. This is about heroes. And he wasn’t one.

After watching Tommy Smothers I was reminded of those other heroes I don’t know. That I haven’t met yet. Those men and women who defend the rights of Tommy to say what he wants to say. The soldiers. Yes. They are my heroes.

They do what is right. What they signed up for. To defend this great country when asked to defend it. To go into war when asked. Not questioning the war. Just doing what they said they would do. And staying true even if they don’t like it or agree with it.

Make no mistake. I hate war. And I especially hate the war in Iraq. There is nothing just about the war in Iraq. But they were asked to go into war by a weak President. And they did. Because that is what they signed up for. To defend this country. Even when the definition of defending is warped through lies and weakness and phantom enemies created by a President who ran away from war when it was his turn. The soldiers didn’t define what it means to defend. They only execute the decision by the leader who makes that decision. And the leaders who support that decision. They are heroes. Even when those who send them to fight a stupid senseless war are anything but heroes. President G. W. Bush is not a hero. The soldiers who fight his stupid war are.

It’s a shame they are not fighting a war to keep us safe. It is a shame that they are just fighting a war someone got them into. A war that has not made the US any safer than before 9/11. All it has done is to raise the possibility of them having to defend this country from more enemies than before. And one man wants them to fight some more wars no one can justify. “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” Yes McCain. It might be funny to you. But to real heroes it is real and not funny. But don’t worry. These heroes will fight your stupid wars if you make it to the White House. While you sit in your nice cosy home – any of them. And when you sit there and laugh how you “got” the other guy.

These heroes will die for this country. To defend Tommy and everything he stands for. And they will die for McCain and everything he stand for. They will just do it. Because that is what makes them right. And because that is what makes them heroes. Those soldiers are heroes. Each and every single one of them. Even when I don’t agree with the war they are involved in.

But I also learned something else while washing the dishes. Heroes don’t always stay heroes. Tommy stayed a hero. He only became my hero tonight. But in truth… He has always been my hero. Because he always did what was right. Even before I knew him. That is a true hero. Someone who stays true no matter what. Even when it is tempting to take the easy route. Even when they could make more money or become more powerful if they took the other route.

So tell me Mr McCain… When did you stop being a hero? When was that moment that it happened? Or was it a gradual thing. Did doing the right thing slowly wash off you like a bad childhood memory? Or were you never really a hero? But we met you as a hero. When you took every single thing they threw at you when they tortured you and just stayed true. Stayed a hero. For more than 5 years while a prisoner of war. You were a hero. What happened?

John Sidney McCain III. How did you stop becoming a hero? How did you turn into what you have become? How did you go from hero to Nero? Willing to lie to become more powerful. Willing to torture others when you were tortured. Willing to smear anyone else who stands in your way. Putting yourself above what is right. Putting yourself above those who are willing to defend your rights. When did you become like those who held you prisoner for more than five years? When did you stop being a hero?

Heroes… Heroes never give up. Heroes never stop. Heroes never think of themselves first. Heroes stay true no matter what. To Tommy. You are a hero. To those men and women who stay true to what is asked of them no matter what. You are heroes.

McCain. You are not. You are a hero lost. And maybe that is the saddest part of it all. You could have been one…