It was literally  hard for me speak or to articulate my feelings after watching the opening film for the 2016 European Film Festival (06-15 May 2016) in Johannesburg: Fuocoammare/Fire at Sea by Gianfranco Rosi.  All I remember are the involuntary tears which streamed down my face undisturbed.

After my friend who had invited me out for the night asked what I thought of the movie. The documentary in fact. I pondered for a moment and thought it best to focus on the fact that I had had the rare opportunity to take my new black number out for a ride. I enjoyed posing for a picture or two and saying hello to one or two old faces and stealing looks at a guy I’ve had a crush on for nearly three years. He looked perfectly handsome in black. Our deal was settled, he was seeing someone, in a relationship in fact. But was flattered none the less that I had asked him out on a date. The chocolate brownies were good too.

What else can I say?

In 2014 and 2015 I spent a lot of time reading, writing and ranting to my parents, sister and brother at home about the state of the world. My mother begged me to look at the positive side of life. My father said I should calm down. My sister said I will lose my hair if I’m not careful. My brother just smiled.  I was enraged. I wrote about it. I woke them up to read my scribblings, disturbed dinner time with talk of politics.  With what was going on in the world. My mother said don’t watch the news. My father said keep yourself informed. I re-read all the history books my father had ordered from “readers digest”, in my teens. I read all the self-help books I could find. I read books on Algebra, on managing your finances, on how to become rich and be a successful human being. I read novels in isiZulu, in Sepedi. Believing that somehow there was  something I had missed. I even read the Bible. A daily devotional, to save my soul from being corrupted by thoughts of injustice and inequality. I washed windows, cleaned cupboards, tried my hand at cooking, swept the driveway, and organized the garage, went on shopping trips with my mom, created a competition for myself: can I mop my parents’ house – all four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge, dining room and kitchen, on my hands and knees in an hour? I watched romantic movies with my sister during scheduled load-shedding periods, chopped onions, green peppers, carrots and cabbage for her when she was cooking. I started dreaming of love, of finding a husband, of getting married and having babies and living happily ever after, anything to supress the volcano which was raging inside me, threating to spill its molten lava on everything that I had built.

It was not until I stumbled on Kenyan Prof Ali Mazruis’ documentary series, The Africans,  that I found a resting place for all my angst. At least here, was someone who could articulate most of my rage in fluent, measured English. He was not emotioanl. I transcribed  parts of “Tools of exploitation” for myself and for posterity. It was all I could do to alleviate a deep sense of frustration. This act of re-writing word for word  Prof Ali Mazruis beautiful narrative helped me deposit all my complicated feelings about slavery, about being African, in Africa and our collective strange relationship with our former colonisers.

A long standing love to hate relationship.

It was around this time that the largest exodus of Africans (an estimated one million poeple) seeking refuge and economic in freedom from Africa to Europe since the slave trade unfolded on our screens. I watched Aljezeera’s reports with awe.  Thousands upon thousands of people, say refugees: principally from Libya, Eritrea, Somalia and others from West African countries were risking life  and limb to cross the oceans for what they believed would be a better life than what they had at home. Their first stop Italy. Many boats sunk at sea snuffing hundreds of lights with them. Others were turned away, still others were rescued. Europe seemed to suffer from the most unimaginable bout of amnesia, and it was keeping me awake at night. They were all collectively scrambling to find ways to protect their borders from alien invasions. They spoke of their right to sovereignty, to protect the integrity of their borders. They all seemed rather surprised that this flood was  taking place to begin with, I mean what do these people want?

Indeed they had nothing to do with it.

How can you not get angry? And if you do what’s the point? So this year, I find myself periodically standing in front of people who know it all, people we’d like to call “Born-Frees”  or the youth. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that these past two years are beginning to make sense to me. It was being prepared to teach. To show others the way. Preparing them for the actual real world, as it is, not as advertised. One of them complained saying “But Miss J, why are you always harping on about politics! It’s so depressing! Can we read something else please??”  I smiled wryly and replied that ” you can read something else in your own time”.

Yet, in my heart of hearts I hope all this effort is worth it.

In my own ‘free” time and for sheer entertainment I find myself, inside these make-shift boats. Re-living my trip to Gore Island, standing at the door of no return facing the endless Atlantic Ocean – Destination –America! Or anywhere but here! I can’t believe it. Not even the creators of the film Amistad could have imagined a real life re-incarnation or replay of events as they were then, today. And to top it all off, it is all perfectly “voluntary” departures, they are illigal. The  west is,  in all is different manifestations like  the biblical character  of Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands with impunity at the face of injustice..

The Italians were at the coalface – forced by geography  to intervene, even if they would, actually, rather not. It’s  dangerous business; rescuing refugees. Many of them are dying from dehydration or suffer from second degree burns from being exposed to leaking gas in the boats, there are infectous diseases, wailing women and dazed  hungry children. We don’t have to wonder anymore how life must have been like in those  slave boats. This time the slaves pay up to 1000 US dollars to be shipwrecked.  Even so, the lives of  the community in the small italian island of Lampedusa continue undisturbed, almost untouched by the desperation – which is killing more than just black bodies. It is drowning all of their hopes and dreams. At least they  died trying or survived to face an uncertain future in hostile European countries.  No one can place a price on freedom and dare I say it “happiness”, it’s expensive and can only be afforded by those brave enough to face death, eye ball to eye ball.

And to this, there’s nothing to say.

The film itself is well done. Slow and meditative, beautiful, a work of art. Black lives, their death, suffering, pain, anguish, hope and resillience, continue to form the backdrop for the the quiet ideal world of the main character Samuel and his boyish fantasies and dreams. That’s just how it is. A group of women dressed in  black like me, walked out of the cinema before the movie was over, enraged. I stayed till the very end.

Not even I can solve the worlds’ problems. They are what they are.

Perhaps the best way I can describe my feelings, the state of our world, is from a lover’s perspective. Since that seems to be my forte. I can describe my feelings through the story of a  woman (because this is what I am currently)/person who has been ruthlessly pursued for decades only to be discarded like chewing gum after it’s lost its sweetness, when she finally says – yes! Josh Grobans’ Oceano sung in Italian (see English translation below) encapsulates this political quagmire ever so poetically:  You can listen here too. One can only hope that in time we can live to tell a different story. But for now…

It’s raining on the ocean

It’s raining on the ocean

It’s raining on my identity

Lightning on the ocean

Lightning on the ocean

Glimpses of luminosity

Maybe here in America

The winds of the Pacific

will discover her immensity

My hands grasp

Distant dreams

And my thoughts run to you

I row, I tremble, I feel

Deep and dark abysses

It’s for the love I’d give you

It’s for the love that you don’t know

You make me feel shipwrecked

It’s for the love that I have

It’s for the love that I want

It’s for this suffering

And this love I have for you

That makes me overcome these real storms

Waves on the ocean

Waves on the ocean

That will gently calm

My hands grasp

Distant dreams

It’s your breath that breathes on me

I row, I tremble, I feel

The wind deep in my heart

It’s for the love I’d have for you

That makes me overcome a thousand storms

It’s for the love I’d give you

It’s for the love that I want

On this sea

It’s for the life that is not

You make me feel shipwrecked

Deep in my heart

All this you would have

and yet to you, everything seems normal.


Pictured:  Fire at Sea film director  Gianfranco Rosi and Samuel the main character in the ducumentary  pose for pictures at the Berlin Film Festival.

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