Unruly class – The start of a how to guide

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There is light at the end of the tunnel

Throwing one in, for good measure. I remember the introductory class like it was yesterday. Patta gave us an overview of the class, we watched Akshay on youtube and shared why we each picked the class. I remember sharing that this class was my wild card – I wanted to do something that was not me. Well, let me just say it was quite a trip!

I remember key phrases shared on this first day:

  • “This is a theory heavy class and we do not apologise for it”
  • “There will be philosophical material…..”
  • “The readings are heavy, so when reading if you do not understand a line, do not get stuck, continue and you will get to understand as you move along”

Philosophy, heavy theory….what did I get myself into!!!!!!!

Shock to the brain
Yap, shock to the brain

I bet I am not the only one who has experienced this. So I figured it would be great to share a how-to-guide for future unrulistas who may not necessarily absorb theory as easily as others, who ask themselves – ‘so now, how does this practically work’.

These were the tips that got me through 6 GREAT weeks!

1) Allow yourself to be affected and infected by others – There were time I was not excited or worse could not understand what the class was talking about. This was because the reading was hard – Agamben and Latin!!!!! At these times, I fed off the class-animated discussion. Watching everyone in the room, allowing the sound of Akshay’s bangles and body language to speak the excitement of Ranciere’s words. This contributed to my understanding of some of the tough concepts.

2) Connect theory to stories/experiences – I found that as we spoke about the different concept I could relate some of it to what had happened and was happening back home. I must say this class reconnected and revived my passion for Kenya. It made me reflect on different unruly acts and people I found interesting/admired:

  1. Njonjo Mue breaking into song (National Anthem) while court proceeding were going on against him. Watching him on TV and thinking he had gone nuts. Meeting him years later and inviting him to preach at a Presbyterian Church Service.
  2. Wangari Maathai with mother of detained prisoners stripping at Uhuru Park demanding the release of their sons. Meeting Wangare Maathai and being awed by her intelligence.
  3. Boniface Mwangi of Power254, the not so new unrulista on the block, boldly taking the fight not only to the street but on social media

Reading theory, reflecting on stories made me understand that being unruly doesn’t mean being dull minded or throwing a tantrum.

3) This bring me to point 3 – be still and let it sink: What I share above is simple reflection and I find that every now and then a mental compartment opens and I have an Aha moment. The class has planted seeds that are receiving and hopefully will continue to receive the required conditions to germinate and influence. I am looking forward to reading the articles again at a much slower pace.

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The germination process

4) I promise you, you may not find answer so stop looking for them. You will leave with more questions than you started with and you may probably be left with the idea that life is about continually improving failures.

My mind was stretched, I now look at words more deeply, it was the second best choice I ever made at IDS! First being the Participation, Power and Social Change MA!

That was me, what about you? Any tips to share?

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SPACES – FILLED WITH MEANING & HISTORY

When I started this blog, it was meant to be about Bunge la Wananchi. I was going to link it to Mitchell (2012) article on ‘Images, Space and Revolution: The Art of Occupation’, touch on a question I have often wonder about – what will bring the Kenyan middle class to the realisation that they need to actively get involved in bringing about change? and share my thoughts on challenges facing non-hierachical organisations.

Before writing, I thought to self, “self, wouldn’t it be great if we had some really swanky pictures of Jeevanjee Gardens!”. This journey took me to discovering something about Nairobi and the gardens I never knew. It demonstrated to me how spaces contain in them an interweaving of history that reaches into the present and future, staying there and affecting generations.

I learnt Jeevanjee was not a name pulled out of a hat. The gardens are named after Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, a man said to have built Nairobi City. Jeevanjee was born in Karachi in 1956 and became a successful peddler trekking across India, Australia and finally to Mombasa in 1890 (Brennan, 2001). His wealth is attributed to a contract secured to provide labour for the construction of the Uganda Railway (1896-1901). He imported his workforce from Punjab in British India

He is credited to have started the East African Standard, first as a weekly newspaper, which he later sold in 1905 – now one of the renowned papers in Kenya; established the East Africa Indian Congress and in 1905 was the first non-white Indian representative in the Legislative Council (LEGCO). In 1904, he started building Jeevanjee Gardens, which he later (1906) donated to the people of Nairobi as a place to relax.

This is where questions took over and changed the course of my post. I asked myself, how does someone set up a business and in less than six years manage to secure big contracts with the colonialists? Is he a collaborator or a freedom fighter as depicted by his granddaughter? How does one own most of Nairobi in such a short time putting them in a position to ‘donate’ the gardens as a place to relax! Who are these Nairobians in 1906 who went to relax at the gardens! Considering there was the Kipande system (Kenyans were not allowed to go into the city without permission. Permission was in the form of an ID referred to as Kipande) was the gardens then for the Colonialists to RELAX!!!!!!?????? @@##$$$%%^&&**(())&**!!@@#$^&*()_++((* (JUST BECAUSE I CANNOT SWEAR!!!!!)

Reading the history of Jeevanjee Gardens, I now consider Bunge la Wananchi’s occupation of the space as something greater than just challenging the current political discourse. By their occupation, they are challenging its pre-occupation by history; each time they meet they are speaking loud and clear to colonialists (both the British and Kenyan politicians). The space should constantly remind us as Kenyans, just as it took battles to fight colonialism, so it shall be to free our minds and country of corruption, nepotism and bad politics.

This has made me realize that I do need to engage more with Kenya’s history. Maya Angelou was right when she said – History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.

References:

Brennan, J.R. (2001) ‘Book Review – Challenges to Colonialism: The Struggle of Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee for Equal Rights in Kenya by Zarina Patel’ in The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 34, no 2 (2001) Page 433-435.

Mitchell, W. J. T. (2012) ‘Image, space, revolution: the arts of occupation’, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 39(1), Page 8-32.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alibhai_Mulla_Jeevanjee

36 hours, 1 liminal space, 3 liminal experiences

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MJ, B & I on Friday

Friday was a beautiful day in Brighton. The sky, as far as I could see, was blue. It was warm, blooming flowers all around; it really felt like spring – says a Kenyan who had not experienced spring before.

My friend, MJ and I, were meeting to go for a hospital appointment. Her baby was overdue so she had a quick check up and induction scheduled. The plan was simple – go in, get the pill, head to 1 stop travel buy train tickets, head home and wait for the meds to work. Simple. No drama.

Lets just say, the only thing I got to do was pick up the train tickets!

36 hours later, on the other side of the experience it hit me: 1 liminal space; 3 people sharing and experiencing it differently; coming out on the other side, sharing the stories and building a communitas!

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My reflection of it using clean straight lines

Alves’ article and the story of the boys in Ajuda hit home.

The story begins in the last quarter of 2015. MJ, B and I met and hit it off. MJ and I are Kenyans, while B and MJ are doing the same MA. MJ was expecting to deliver her baby in 2016 and both B and I committed to be her birth partners. A disclaimer here – YouTube and all the reading does not fully prepare you for the birth-partner role!

Friday 25 March 2016 10.45am, we walked into our liminal phase. Although under care and within the hospital, the three of us were in a period of anti-structure. The nurses, midwives and doctors taking on the same role as the parents and old people watching the young boys running amok in Alves’ article. Every time we asked what to expect, the answer we got was ‘everyone is different’, ‘each experience is different’, ‘we cannot answer that as it depends on one’s own experience’. Nothing was definite, we could not predict how it would go; MJ’s body was in control.

As I cannot speak for MJ and B, I will share my story.

Over the last 13 years, I have been with a couple of friends and family for a few hours of their labour. My role included encouraging them to go through it, bringing them water when they asked for it. However, the visit never lasted more than an hour as I went home and waited for the phone call informing me of the eventual birth. In this case, I was there to the end.

The 36 hours defied structure. My meal times and plans were out the window; my reading plans down the toilet; my sleeping schedule non existent or grabbed at the most oddest of times and positions; bathroom break taken when the situation was approaching critical; my legs, mind, hands sharpened and strengthened by adrenaline.

I watched and supported my friend as she went through increasing levels of pain. Pain that I could not bear in order to relieve her of it; pain, that I came to understand was important for the process; pain, that was an indicator of things progressing and baby was on his way; pain, that I related to God’s curse on women for eating the forbidden fruit (damn Eve, why did she listen to the snake!).

There was no time to think and plan for the next contraction. There was just action: moving from Labour Ward to Ante Natal Care Ward to Labour Ward to Ante Natal Care Ward; walking round the corridor, round and round and round; coming up with the script and saying soothing words with sometimes a firm voice – ‘slow deep breaths MJ’, ‘you are breathing to fast, MJ you need to slow it down’, ‘listen to me MJ’, ‘you are doing great’, ‘well done’, ‘lower your shoulders’, ‘do not move’, ‘here have some gas’. I could go on and on.

What I have said so far may sound grim, but there were good time. Where maybe only two of us could laugh and some times the three of us could laugh. Some significant moments were: in reaction to our confirmations that the pain relief medication was on its way, MJ asked B and I whose side we were on. I am still laughing even as I write this. She had been waiting for pain relief and to her, felt a conspiracy was a foot to keep it from her. MJ loving the sight of the Anaesthesiologist in the room and grabbing her hand in love; once the epidural was administered, the laughter and jokes we cracked as she progressed. And MJ advocating for another mother-to-be in pain to receive her pain relief.

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B, MJ and I (from left)

All put together – the good and the bad- it was a beautiful experience! It was capped by holding the baby in our arms; hearing him cry as he was delivered; shouts of mother on seeing her baby; the joy of watching MJ dot on her son; watching the baby feeding.

So far, nothing is like what I went through.

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J & I. Tumetoka mbali (loosely translated, You and I have come from far – it has been quite a journey).

By trading stories amongst the three of us, with the midwives and hospital staff we formed a communitas – some stronger than others. By sharing this story with you all, speaking to my mother about her experience of going through it FOUR TIME and reflecting on it now and as the days go by, I feel like I will be going through what Alves (1993) says happens – ‘deconstructing the rampage, where I gain new knowledge, growth and power making me cope better with situations’. The last part I guess I will have to see as I go through my own experience or support someone else in theirs!

Reference:

Alves, J. (1993). ‘Transgressions and transformations: initiation rites among urban Portuguese boys’ in American Anthropologist, 1993, 95(4), pp. 894-928.

Shutdown Yarl’s Wood! – My reflections

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Message on Yarl’s Wood Wall at the end of the day

This has been a year of firsts. Over 4,000 miles from home and in my 30s, I got to attend my first protest. I was among over 2,000 protestors outside Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. Yarl’s Wood is one of 13 centres in the UK, holding foreign national considered by UK Immigration to be out of status prior to their case being determined and if decided, deported.

It was electrifying, loud, colourful, full of music and people. We all joined in one voice shouting – No human is illegal: Shut it doooowwwwnnn, shut it dooooowwwnnn.

YouTube video – One voice; United.

As all this was going on, my mind was taking in the scene, thinking about the drive there and long walk to the centre. Below are my reflections on the day:

Yarl’s Wood is out of the way and not accessible by public transport. As we waited for the coach, we met a gentleman going to visit a ‘detainee’. He had been waiting for a while. As we were the last group to leave and had an extra seat he got a lift. This made me wonder – what happens to families wanting to visit their loved ones? Are visitors allowed in the first place? How do they get there? Considering the location, is the State consciously hiding its actions from its citizens?

Yarl’s Wood was for me a picture of the state controlling life and living; bare life as described by Agamben (1998). The windows at the centre open slightly, only allowing one arm to pass through and limiting view – I guess this is also to save life as any wider would aid suicide. The message hung out by the women uses two words that are of interest – ‘relationships’ and ‘vulnerable’; indicating their bodies are not their own as they are vulnerable to rape and exploitation by guards.

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You will not silence us. You will not, you will not.

The voices of the women inside were voices of desperation – a lady whose friend/relative put forward to speak could not as her words were all jumbled up. This frustrated her friend/relative, who in response shouted repeatedly, ‘speak, say, speak slowly…’ Listening to this exchange, I concluded that it was not that the lady on the other side could not communicate but perhaps it was emotional for her which resulted in jumbled speech.

It was interesting to see the ladies throw their cutlery out the window! Reflecting with another lady on the bus about this, we decided that the ladies would have achieved this based on two scenarios – they had collected their trays over time OR had refused to take them back on the day and just threw them out the window….BRILLIANT. Even detained, the ladies were unruly. The protests presented an opportunity for rupture with the potential to get away with it. That said, I wonder what happens after…do the guards treat them worse? Or do they leave them alone because there is more attention drawn to the place?

As people were streaming out and noise dying down, the voices within the centre were clear. I could hear them from across the fence – ‘Thank you for coming’, ‘Don’t give up the fight’ and so on. This was touching, for me. I thought about the strategy used – bring pots and pans and make as much noise as possible for the ladies to hear everyone’s support; bang on the fence; call the ladies inside and let them speak to everyone on speaker. I thought, what about – SILENCE – allow the ladies inside, for a time to speak, to shout through.

From where I was standing, I could see the organisers deciding on who would speak; or calling those on the inside to speak. This made me consider the fact that there was a narrative being shared. How were narratives selected? Who was and why were the individuals selected to speak. For a moment, it took me to my days working with INGOs where ‘locals/community reps’ were selected and flown to international platforms as the ‘voice’ from the field/south.

At the end of the day I asked myself, was this action unruly?

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Everything was useful!
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Feet were at work!

Can an unruly action be that organised, with police directing protestors? Is it unruly if the state accepts it and does nothing about it or does not seem to be affected by the action?

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Does his body language speak louder than words?
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This picture, from my reading of other protests, causes me to wonder

Is unruly action and its definition relative by country?

The Unruly Class kept its promise, I am left with more questions than answers.

Reference:

Agamben, G. (1998) ‘Part two: Homo Sacer’, in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp.71-115.

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