By Hwaa Irfan
Living in the city is not easy for an empath who has spent over six years living a near village life. It was the close friendship of her daughter with a warm and tender young Muslim sister that brought her back to the small town up by the dam, so the girls could spend time together before returning to books, lectures, tutorials, assignments, and presentations etc, etc, etc. Up until then their friendship had been maintained by phone since university life laid claim, so this was a chance to spend time together away from the distractions of a city life that would continually test their respective inner well being.
Mina was only there to accompany her daughter to the village for her daughter was yearning to get away from dysfunctional city life, but Mina herself would soon have to return to the city to work without the exhilarating smell of nature, and fresh air.
The evening was spent together in the garden, surrounded by fragrances that reminded Mina that she could actually breathe, that there was nothing wrong with her health, and that it was the city that was trying to fool her into believing that she is less than she is actually worth. Soothed by the fresh breeze that caressed her senses, Mina was finally reclaiming her equilibrium that had been stolen by the city – she soon returned to her normal state away from the ultraviolet rays that bounce off the concrete buildings through air ladened with pollutants exaggerating the already unbearable city heat.
Maryam’s friend, was happily reunited with her parents, as university life for her is in a city far from home. She was reunited with her dear friend also called Maryam (Mina’s daughter), whom she had not seen since the beginning of her university semester. Maryam the friend invited me to talk to her mother about some of the products that she had bought, in order to introduce the issue of a U.S. boycott with one of the student activities. We were soon to be joined by some neighbors and the discussion, far from being political, the atmosphere was about reclaiming life!
“What am I going to do without Ariel?” one sister said.
Mina could not say that Ariel is in fact an animal rights issue and has little to do with Israel, but what she could say pertained to the chemicals in Ariel that wash our clothes white and then are thrown away to be recycled back into the food we eat and the water we drink. Then alternatives were mentioned, but the alternatives were still foreign as the local precursor was no longer a consideration. This should not be a problem, but it was for Mina, because these products were a symbol to her of how human relations in the country she had chosen to live in had changed over a period of 17 years.
Then, it was about looking out for one another, sharing and understanding; no door was closed upon a neighbor or some stranger in need. People led a more interdependent life with their surroundings and with each other, not even the poorest person lived without support. Racism was present, but tolerable as this was out-paced by the people’s general attraction to different people’s and places. Products were locally produced, less processed and healthy then. The diet was determined by the seasonal harvests, bringing people closer in rhythm with the laws of the nature that Allah bestowed upon us for sustenance. It seemed to Mina that had all changed. Foreign products opened the door to the “I want more” factor – wanting more than was necessary, increased dissatisfaction with what one’s country produce, more additives/addictions, ill-health, stress, distrust and a kilo of medication to show to everyone that “I am really ill. I need your attention, your concern, your affection.”
The discussion ensued, looking at the city as a metaphor for unhealthy living, where neighbors knowledge of each other is reduced to a deceptive politeness, competing at one level or another to an obsessive degree; where nature has no room, and the young are a law unto themselves. One could leave home decently dressed in clean clothes and return “with black clothes,” as one Sudanese sister amongst us phrased it, because of the level of pollution. She knew the city, and we sang the same song accept she had no intention of returning, whilst Mina felt oblidged.
Women gathered under a star-lit sky that one felt one could reach out and touch, being caressed by the scent of nature on the breeze, as palm trees began to dance. Women gathered to communicate with the heart, their real thoughts and feelings as if they always knew each other – this was how they entertained themselves that evening, as if everything stopped in Time.
From Palestine to Afghanistan Mina ached inside. Never again in her lifetime, she thought, she would have to fight or see others fight the way her people fought in her youth for their right to Be. In the forests of resistance when it was clear who the enemy was, ordinary Afro-Caribbean people began to rise above the oppression of the mind calling on the worl’d humanity when it had one. Her people networked with the underground resistance movements of South Africa, educated each other and the public as they went along. They got caught up in battles on the street – chased by policemen on horseback. They organized through the education system, challenging a racist system with new ideas, teaching resources; committees; and directed their energies through local councils and the voluntary movement. Whilst all of that was going on her generation organized their own own education and entertainment, and never depended on the mainstream to say “We Are”.
Mina’s people traveled across towns and countries to be with each other in music, art and literature that possessed meaningful lyrics and rhythms that helped to understand what was going on, informing and re-energizing. Sleep was minimal and the worries of her generations parents rose when we left our homes for the day, but they understood. Her generation wrote plays and poems and performed words of daily life, thoughts, experiences both personal and public, and as they reconstructed the English language to say to give shape to their reality they shared, and observed how their works of art moved the audience.
The songs for Palestine, Iraqis, native Americans, and Africans’ in and out of the Diaspora who have been sucked into the matrix – the looming neo-colonialism/globalization haunted Mina to her core. She listened until she could not listen anymore.
Mixed emotions of tears, anger, powerlessness and pretending to be blind create the atmosphere, even amongst those who feel that they can do something. With the artistes-cum-activists of the soul is awakened if it failed elsewhere. The words of Gil Scott Heron reverberated in Mina’s head:
“The revolution will not be televised.”
The jazz-oetry of the ‘70s—the precursor to modern-day rap music—was full of realties that begged the listener to wake up before it was too late. Every time Mina looked at the news, listened or read a report, the words “The revolution will not be televised” declared themselves.
It is Islam – her life, that had shown Mina the way, but she found herself turning to the music of her heritage long ago, with lyrics that clarified the personal and the reality of the system lived, singing to our Creator. Those songs gave her strength then and now.
“ The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
The revolution will not be no re-run brother,
The revolution will be live.”
The discussion amongst friends and neighbors in the village was about life, the life that has perpetuated the same system that feels free to ignore common consensus and invade that which does not belong to it.
For Maryam, going to the market to do the household shopping is now about reading the label of everything that she buys. Maryam was brought up close to her Islam and for her this task is not an awesome one. Every Ramadan we are reminded of the excesses that life presents before us and to do without these excesses for the holy month. Yet, when that time ends, what do we do?
– Do we return to eating things that are actually bad for us after redeeming our health?
– Do we return to using products that are bad for our environment?
How many of these products are supporting a bad regime or even the occupation of Palestine and Iraq; and the domination of people’s less spoken of like the Haitians, the native-Americans, the Aborigines, the Bushmen? Whether we want to or not, how many of us find ourselves back into running against the clock, finding no time for each other, let alone ourselves?
The revolution will not be televised; it is to take place in our hearts and minds as we genuinely look at the mechanisms that we live by. If we really think that our lives are separate from what is going on then look again.
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” – Martin Niemoeller, 1892-1984
The original was written in 2003