January 5, 2014

Dreams from Darkest Africa: Living in Fear.

Sweet Africa, I yearn to hear your laughter.

If I forget you, will I have forsaken thee?
Will my mournful heartstrings burn my tears asunder?
Or am I destined to live in hope that we may be reunited some day?
O Africa, will you be my beloved for all times…

Out of Africa, I was birthed. I’m an African.

I grew up in constant fear of the shadow of darkness and the shadow of death; the deepest void of fear hovered over me. Africa can feel that way: immense mineral riches swallowed up by European powers, and a feeling of savage uncertainty, relentless unease bubbling just beneath the surface that can engulf you in fear.

This fear made me alone. An isolation that is hard to explain.

“No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream—alone.”

~ Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary

It is slow torture to live in unremitting fear. I hope not many will understand such invisible torment.

I hope not many will relate to such suffering of the heart and mind.

This was apartheid, this was Africa, this was a war.

Yet I am not black, I am white! The African sun burns my pale flesh pink!

My roots are European, yet for generations, my ancestors have lived in Africa. I’m of white-skinned African descent; the sins of the father inflicted upon the son.

My suffering was not visible on the surface, not marked on my skin, not represented by a Court hearing or jail sentence. It was a silent imprisonment of the soul, as much real as imagined.

To be gripped by an unknown torturer was a dull and persistent ache. I am not being morbid by sharing myself in this way. And I don’t mean to demean or reduce the “real” suffering of my black brothers and sisters.

I had to get out—I had to escape this invisible suffering, this fear of the unknown void.

“The mind of man is capable of anything.”

~ Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary

Revolution was on everybody’s lips (spoken in hushed tones) growing up, and it wasn’t going to be pretty. War in Africa is never kind.

People considered their options if things got unlivable. They heard stories of what happened in Rhodesia up north and for us, it was just a matter of time… How long could white rule hang on before the country fell into the abyss?

Many were so comfortable, enchanted with the quality of life for colonial people in Africa. They tried to live for the moment, they tried to forget. They felt lazy admiring the African skies and nonchalantly ignoring those flailing helplessly around them. If you’ve ever seen an African sunset, who could be blamed for indulging in its shiny glow?

“Here I am, where I am supposed to be.”

~ Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

The news we got was Government-sanctioned, controlled, sanitised and completely one-sided. Occasionally we would hear whispers from the international media, yet usually disbelievingly. We would fight against reason, armed with self-justifying platitudes that the foreign media were biased.

In those days, there was no internet or mobile phones—the apartheid machine ran all media, with tight-fisted blanket control over propaganda and what we were supposed to think.

We were lost.

“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness”

~ Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness and the Congo Diary

But, we felt alive.

Was it the law of the jungle, or living in wild times, or just living in Africa?

“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”

~ Karen Blixen, Out of Africa

Terror can blind you, repel you, or fashion something deeper out of you, something unwanted.

A self that does not understand stillness or peace, a part of you that can never sleep. As  a wild animal is always half-awake, you cannot relent from being on alert. You may feel numb with exhaustion, yet just a flicker of your mind stays awake in the jungle.

The lessons will arise from something well-hidden within when you cannot sleep. That’s when the rationalisations begin that blind you from the truth.

The tension became palpable at times to the point of overwhelming the senses. I couldn’t breathe under the weight of uncertainty. My apartheid dream was an internal war, one fought with myself.

Narcissus loved to look at himself; one day whilst looking at himself in a pool of water, he fell in and drown. A flower grew from that the place of his death and it was the Narcissus (daffodil), a sign of rebirth.

In the words of Gandhi,“The end is inherent in the means.”

We have the right to choose how to be in any given moment, how to live, what to think, how to feel. This is a sovereign right of free will. We can choose a different way to be.

“Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger; Anger leads to hate; Hate leads to suffering.”

~ Yoda, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

On the other side of fear lies freedom.

N’kosi Sikeleli Afrika

(God Bless Africa)


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Wikimedia Commons,  jasonwhat/Flickr, Caras Ionut/Pixoto

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