Friday, October 3, 2008

Batauri Blues

(With apologies to Bob Dylan)

Broken sunglasses (two pair)
Got big holes in my broken underwear
Broken alarm clock won't wake me it seems
From sleep that's broken by Lariam dreams
Car's out of gas, you must be jokin'
Everything is broken

Broken school system, a strike descends
Weeks go by and no one attends
Broken education, no children learning
Except how bleak their future's turning
Young minds wasted, a damning trend
Everything is broken

Broken laptop battery, how I cried
Replaced the battery, then my laptop died
Broken DVDs, some won't play
Broke copyright laws buying them anyway
Broken lantern spits fumes that are chokin'
Everything is broken

Broken roads, craters abound
Broken speed limits, no cops around
Broken bodies in broken cars
Broken headlights? Drive by the stars
Pass that van, though a semi is approachin'
Everything is broken

Broken watch tells me time I can't trust
Its broken replacement is collecting dust
Broken shaver won't trim my goatee
Broken mirror won't set my reflection free
Broken mosquito net invites malaria in
Everything is broken

Broken NEPA, no switches work
Broken water, diseases lurk
Broken babies face broken starts
HIV silences broken hearts
The hardships mount, the deluge soakin'
Everything is broken

All the things that I have broken
Are only things, their losses token
People here bear worse and remain
Comparing our struggles would leave me ashamed
Their spirit still soars, their faith has no end
Seems not everything is broken


Anonymous said...

Hope, faith and community against all odds, particularly when the "community" part continues to be devastated by HIV/AIDS.
This is a sobering rip-off of Dylan, Glenn. Is your lariam partly to blame here? One wonders.
Soldier on.

Anonymous said...

The power of words; the strength of song; the feel of rhythm, even if slightly off-beat. I hope to whatever god you believe in that you are saving all these blogs. This is definitely "my life in Africa" kind of stuff.

Song and poetry, more than prose, are about moods....the emotional evocation of feeling and nearly wordless expression of sense. Maybe not wordless, because poetry obviously uses/depends on words. Maybe it's the lack of explication and explanation that gives power to poetry and song.

When we explain, we somehow justify or take up a position, more adamantine than simple evocation, more implication than imprecation [prayer that cries out for justice or peace at the very least]. Prose requests a prosey response; poetry dares you to try: try to understand, try to fathom, try to define, try to respond in like manner.

Today must be a day of moods. One of the lawyers on the third floor of the building where my office is located has been wandering the streets of late. He is obviously obsessed by a situation, and this is his habit: he wanders, paces, chain smokes, runs into walls, looks distracted.

I like him a lot -- he is so not a Bay Street/Wall Street/Lombard Street blue suit. He's a lefty, of course, beard and all. And takes up causes in the name of social justice, the lost causes we might say.

What I like most about Murray [that's his name] is just how caught up he gets in a case... the wandering, smoking man, muttering to himself, working out his logic, his arguments, his ideas, his strategy....along with his mood, his mind, his words....

I've been watching him over the last few days since I've returned from South Africa. His mood keeps getting darker and today while I was sitting in Starbucks [worst coffee in the universe -- I have a perverse sense of pain so early in the morning], he came in, got his vente [what the hell is that?], sat down in a distracted sort of way and started talking.

I asked if he was pondering over a case, knowing full well that he is. His response surprised me, even as I was prepared for it: I have a serious case and I'm just not smart enough to handle it.

Whoa there, big fella....let's stop with the self recrimmination. It won't do you any good to be so negative and won't help the clients if you feel so down on yourself [here's Victor, chaplain to lefty lawyers].

The case: a real dastardly nasty one. It seems a housing coop is being coopted by one of the regional governments. There has been bad blood between the coop and the government apparatchiks for some time. So to "get even", the regional authorities declared "suspicion" of mismanagement and hinted at the coop being bankrupt. In the name of due diligence [you can just see an empty suit of a lawyer smugly crafting that argument], they appointed a receiver to oversee the operations, since it was "obviously mismanaged into bankruptcy". That little slight of hand was bad enough, but it doesn't stop there.

Now the regional wonks are petitioning the receiver -- whom they appointed -- to purchase the "bankrupt housing coop" at "fire sale prices" for themselves. From sticky situation to stinky mess.

Murray is the lawyer for the coop, and he simply doesn't know what he can do to help. It seems that although all of this doesn't pass the stink test and is sleazy at best, it is nonetheless legal. That age old difference between legal and legitimate.

The brokenness of it all is too much to take. And I think this is what is overwhelming Murray the most: If he can't fix it, is it somehow his fault for being too stupid [as he claims] for not really knowing how to fix it?

I admire people like Murray -- driven by conviction. I can relate, even if I don't do the same things in the same well.

I'm on the board of an international organization called World Confederation of Productivity Science, and our vision is peace through prosperity through productivity.

We aim to create the opportunity for peace by raising economic standards of living [eliminating poverty/increasing prosperity] through the application of productivity principles, strategies, plans in the socio-economic arenas of nations and peoples. As convoluted as that may sound, it is at root a naively idealistic vision for peace, and that is the reason why I belong [the child of the 60s who never grew out of his idealism].

It is interesting to note that as we propound these lofty ideals to the world at large, we must also consider how they apply to us both collectively and individually. If we want others to buy into this vision, we must also live the vision, that is, be proof of concept -- otherwise, it's just an idea without validation in reality. Not easy to do to and for yourself; much easier to try to get others to do it instead.

Of recent, we've had to re-examine ourselves in terms of our values.
We firmly believe that anything worth doing has to be driven by values -- individual, possibly shared, and maybe even collective. This is a struggle on the personal level comparable to lawyer Murray's wandering muttering soul-searching gaunt figure roaming the streets of the Queen-John village.

The challenge of your own convictions forces us to confront our own brokenness -- the gap between what we say and what we mean, between what we believe and what we do, between intention and act.

Is the world really broken? or do we simply project our own brokenness onto the world and declare it to be so in order to distance ourselves from what is innately us? If the world were truly broken, then how could the people, whom we surmise to be the victims of such brokenness, be so happy? We see only misery, but whose misery is it -- their's, the world's as such, or ours projected onto them and the world around them?

Please I don't mean to relativize misery, poverty, hurt, pain, disease, starvation, cruelty -- the 4 horses of the apocalypse are indeed real and not just poetic configurations.

But the disjuncture I wrestle with the most is "the misery of those who are prosperous" and the seeming correlated "happiness of those who are by all senses of the term living in misery". This is also brokenness.

To end: where does song come from? no, this is not a socio-anthropological analytical question? it's a question of impulse: what gives rise to our need to sing?

Brokenness is a strong root cause: the dirge of hope and tears sung at the death of another -- the Kol Nidre of Hebrew tradition; the Dies irae of Latin Christian tradition.

Triumph even in destruction is another: Miriam, sister of Moses and Aaron, broke out into a song of triumph and praise to God who smote the Egyptian army at the parting of the Red Sea. Surrounded by death and destruction, we sing and dance and play.

Songs of slaves, of victims: such as the chorus of Hebrew slaves in captivity in Verdi's opera Nabuccho, or the African-American spiritual tradition.

Songs of love as expressions of hope in the face of vulnerability and openness to the unknown [is that not what love is really about? taking a chance at being vulnerable and trusting that the other will accept us even in our vulnerability -- brokenness]

And so, my friend, as you begin to wind down your time in Nigeria, preparing for those last few months, facing the end as it comes over the horizon -- a bit distant for now, but coming closer by the day -- AND as you also face the reality that Kristel is leaving as break into song, a song about brokenness, limitation, endings.....

ain't life grand on a chilly Friday afternoon in Canada in October.....keep on singing....

Anonymous said...

I am so glad I read to the end. You're right with all that is broken they still have hope.

I hope you have hope too.

Take care.