My 1st Night in South Africa (prose/poem)
after crossing waters where my kin still stand,
unable to find eternal rest on ocean beds,
i find myself floating in a sea of Black
faces from every current that licks the coast
of this continent.
i am lost at see.
i am emerging in every face
my eyes behold between blinks.
i hear myself in every turn of the tongue
regardless of the language that confines it.
i have floated so far from for the shores of reality
when my suitcase grazes lightly,
like a full gazelle,
against another woman’s bag.
i return from the paradise my mind has vacationed
my sense of space to.
i begin to pluck an apology like sweet fruit
from beneath my tongue,
when this woman,
when this white woman,
when this white woman in South Africa
raises her voice at me like I am a child
whose careless hands
have come too close to spilling the rainbow stew
that sits in this nation’s melting pot.
she says to me,
entitlement filling the deep valleys
disbelief has created on her face.
in that moment,
i am sure she has packed
all of the white mans burdens
in her suitcases.
and her every word becomes shovel
to unearth the ghosts of apartheid,
we are toe to toe in this haunted hallway
and she continues,
YOU NEED TO GO AROUND! THIS LAND IS OCCUPIED!
she says this, and she traces her finger through the air
as if the act of drawing borders is her inheritance.
it is not lost on me i am here for a summit to ‘break down borders’,
and this relic, she reminds me
how many borders exist beyond the maps
they’ve drawn on our lands,
how to them,
our very beings are borders,
able to be crossed
with no consequence.
she is the prodigal daughter of colonization,
returned to her father’s gluttonous feast
on our land.
i wonder if her ancestors told her to speak down to me
like mine compelled me to stand up to her?
THIS LAND, she says, IS OCCUPIED!
…as if I did not already know this.
as if i too do not come from a land where whites have taken
to the point that they
and even we believe
it is theirs to hold in their hands,
their soft hands that have never worked this land,
only overseen our bent or broken bodies.
i open my mouth,
and decades of displacement fill the hotel lobby.
the bellboy’s mouth,
it falls agape at my audacity,
it shatters at his silence.
she tells me, THIS LAND IS OCCUPIED,
and my brother’s eyes begs me to wear quiet
like a coat
in this South African winter.
i consider his request…
…in my mind,
but my body,
my body remembers and refuses
to go back to a silence colonization once forced
down my grandmother’s throat,
the same silence that sits too comfortably
in too many of my cousin’s stomachs.
from the corner of my eye, i see
my South African sister shift,
i realize her body remembers too,
I watch her mouth transform from body part to
sword and tell this woman so sharply,
shut up! who are you?
let’s go Mwende, this is not worth the time
we disengage from that
which only means to take and take.
her body remembers it belongs here,
was birthed here, was not beckoned
by false burdens and gods
whose only path to kingdom
my sister, she reclaims this ‘occupied’ land,
and makes a way for both of us to pass.
later, she whispers to me that maybe
sons|daughters should be made to pay
the price their fathers put on our heads,
that maybe then, they’d understand
this land was never theirs to begin with.
i respond with a throat full of thanks,
tell her how in my mind, i took the woman’s bags and threw them across the lobby, how i imagined
her clothes becoming a flock of birds taking flight,
as we picture this scene of paradise in our minds,
our mouths burst open like ripe coconuts
knocked down in the winds of change.
we are a lineage of laughter|survival,
the recognition that sometimes they be
both and the same,
our joy is our being and
our being is a reminder
we are still here,
that still being here is enough of an act of resistance,
enough of a reminder,
that though the project of colonization is ongoing,
it is an ongoing failure.
let our every breath be reminder.
we are still here,
we are still here,
we have always been here,
we will always be here.
-Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, May 26th, 2017