chapter III – afro

chapter III – afro

“i’m good to go, ma!” in the midst of packing on an blistering hot day in mid-august, i was off task for a moment when i stumbled upon what i interpreted to be a great something. “ma, look at this! is this a dashiki?” a beautiful burnt orange cloth with circular brown imagery. it fit the curves of my biceps & ran down past my torso & found a fitted rest right at the top of my thighs – love at first glance. “ma, you think people who are originally from africa will appreciate me wearing this or is this appropriation?” i’ve always been over-careful, but yet somehow, still dangerously naïve to the world & how wide it was. my mind still set out to employ courage & fail out loud, if it were to be so.

the excitement i felt was bone-deep, it had passed through the textile of my skin & permeated every corner of my heart – i was africa bound. a boy from cleveland descending upon the majesty that is the motherland – the cradle of all humanity. what a gift it was for me to be embarking on this place, i, a black man, who wanted to quest in order to know myself more deeply & the royalty that i inherited all by way of my pigmentation. kings, queens, the history of the first civilized society, the lost prophecies, the ground that gave way all religions. nas, tupac, kendrick lamar & bob marley guided my visions of a mystic land. when i came home, i would be a balanced rock, with africana as my center.

of course, it wasn’t all serendipity in my dreams. i deemed myself aware of these famine like conditions i saw images of too.  i heard africans were hungry & so we needed to make them a mission trip, but i rejected that notion & still do. instead i subscribed to the secrets of forgotten royalty & highly under-publicized places where civilization existed. this needed to be revealed & i was coming to be the narrator to fundamental white folks that weren’t looking deep enough. i needed to organize people here on the ground, too. my notions were enough for me to believe myself a prophet coming home to become a radical, afro-centric. these labels theoretically fit me seamlessly – just like my dashiki. i had a clear role.

when i arrived, i instantly saw the beauty. the stench of the air to me was like the smell of cotton candy & funnel cakes. the curvature of the mountains were thrill rides. this was my culmination. if i was brave enough, i would’ve stopped to kiss the ground, but instead i just grinned like a boy up to mischievous deeds. as i looked upon people who shared my pigment & began to notice myself the majority, i felt emboldened. i walked by these pedestrians eargely nodding my head, sometimes even throwing up my right fist clamped with exclaimed passion – this was the code of ethics i already knew to live by. the initial days here are both vivid & yet still feel like an illusion i vividly created – i can’t call it yet. what i do know is that i was called to move out of slumber & into the actual rhythm that was developed long before me.

a rhythm of disharmony, terrorism & corruption of the mind. in my first day here in this community, baba told me to adjust. he said that i was in the third world – amongst a people who were type-casted &  then edited out for a more appealing character that the world has loved many places over.  conceptually, this was the call to wake up, but at second glance, the reality existed in an even larger organism. i remember stepping out a few days later on heritage day. still dreaming, i was in another dashiki i had purchased back in the states. this one more loose around the body, allowing the wind to sneak up underneath so it could hum on my chest. when i stepped out, i was disenchanted by the sight. it turns out i didn’t see dancing bodies in tribal gear. no parades led by drum, not even a chant. instead, i saw human beings who were being human – trying to cope with the weight of groceries & an certain evil that has spoken before. young humans new to the world who played in the fields as they were assigned to do work. the elders, however, let them run free: they enjoyed watching the children, because they missed naivety. i miss it now, too.

being a dreamer & also being undyingly stubborn, though, forced me to hold on to the image. it was just too good not to be real. where were the elders with zulu tales, the fire lit circles & the damn drums? my body has slouched from time to time, now that life had kicked in. the everyday life of those forced to live in a system of marginalization that has changed the language to sound inclusive, but still deep down is excluding. i, the now dreadlocked prophet in question, sat powerless, locked in devices of abused idealism. so, i began sleep walking, though my body somewhat awake, still i was trying to fade back into the dream.

that was until i saw something my eyes couldn’t escape. not too long ago, i sat at a table with two others enjoying a bite, in this time more comfortable to be in part slumber. a man who had brown skin like me approached us. he wanted money to drink & be for the night. we refused him & so he went on to others to continue his barter. not too long after leaving us however, his body was taken, arms placed behind his back, now under control of the system.  i couldn’t help but snap back into memories of loved ones who were taken under for similar or of less consequence. the reasons of plunder justified by the habit. no hope for rehabilitation & community, just more isolation, granting him more chances to binge. he wasn’t free.

that moment served a reminder, but yet still in part slumber, i grogged on, still looking for the afro-centralizing, that cultural moment – still, i thought myself to be simba.. so, i used a computer again to feed me a more concrete image to tuck in my mind. this only caused more of a chasm between me & the world i was invited into. i had no choice but to stop hitting snooze & be here, ten toes firmly planted on the ground.

i stepped outside my flat again & went with a new lens. with this new lens, however, i’ve noticed old things. a food desert, with a folk who were told they were free for the system now, but still somehow relegated to living standards below human dignity. a community that suffers from stigmatization of crime rates & the assumption that they are the primary plunderers.  a community lacking places that supply physical resource for living, but has a plethora of spiritual ones, in the form of churches nearly everywhere – places of refuge for those who were looking past the human threshold for hope – i saw my home.

i’ve never felt enlivened & deflated all in a swoop, but in this time, i knew it inside. what i was looking for by way of a homecoming wasn’t to be a parade, but instead a march in solidarity against a familiar foe.

this isn’t just home in the sense of struggle, but also in love, too. i experience the care of sweet women who take care of me as if i am of their womb. a community of men who are fighting just to avoid the system catching them. the system here doesn’t currently hinge on police militarization & the black body here sees a different abuse, but maybe that’s the point. in this day of veiled racism, you can’t ever make yourself too obvious. i see so much of home that i don’t even feel like i’m away sometimes. the language barrier, however, serves as ample reminder.

there hasn’t been serendipity found in waking up. i still think about the dream & wonder, can it ever be? i’m starting to take issue with the dream, though. what feels certain to me is that my desire for afro-centrism can’t be rooted in the dream. yes, the ancestral context & culture matter deeply, but there’s more to our connected story. this time has led me to believe that afro-centrism must also be rooted in the reality that though it shows it’s face in different ways, we are in bondage. our history & our present are just as diverse & complicated.  our core spread all-around this world, suffers & yet is still fighting for basic human freedoms – that’s connection.  though we fight battles that hold different things at stake, we fight for a common core. so, yes, let’s love, but let’s approach love in its fullness, not just its pleasurable dimensions. that’s being centered.

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chapter II – identify yourself

prelude II – little black boy by rjmy

i, just like you, know pain, little black boy.
i, also, have wallowed in the sorrow of this nothing.
i, even, have a back that has been battered & bruised;
they built a great thing on top of me, too.
i just want you to know, i am your brother
&
i will take time to press my lips against your wounds;
you, too, can tend to mine,
because ,i, just like you, know pain, little black boy
.

– rjmy

chapter II – identify yourself

one day, me & monilise were sitting on the porch.
we were discussing many topics, one of them being the united states.
he specifically wanted to know the state of her black bodies & how they identified themselves.
his television led him to believe the lighter pigmented folk enjoyed the sweetest of coronas & that the darker ones were disoriented.
he wanted to know why the black body uttered lazy english & was always seen laying on the ground, lifeless.
i found this seven year old boy to be prophetic, measured in speech, and powerfully wise – i have envied him ever since.
as he gave me the floor to speak my version of the truth, i felt far beyond obligated to speak with dignity, intellect, & and some sort of clarity.
i tried to explain the way the black body tries to ration itself: black, african-american, african, etc.
monilise cut my words short – “why would any black person from america say they are african-american, or african?
the disgust on his face left me with an distinct sadness – i knew what he was perceiving.
i presumed that he believed those who knew themselves to be black, african-american, or african, god forbid, to be without identity.

i have been staggering ever since that time, loved ones.
i am writing this piece from a place of sorrow & brokenness.
i cannot help but to feel that monilise knew far more about me then i could ever pretend to know about myself.
i have long walked with a strange hurt in my heart, but never have had the capacity to put words to it.
some days, my body fails me miserably.
there have been days my body has deprecated so deeply that i felt like i could not spend another day on this earth
i have had to see a therapist about my mental health, or lack thereof.
i have experienced illness at the most inopportune times.
i have had to face many demons of days past that i expected to be long gone.
i am spending so much time trying to heal myself, that i often wonder if my eyes can see anyone else.
how could i dare say i am accompanying anybody when it seems my body is the one that needs rescuing?

the truth is, that i walk in this world with many labels, but with no clear identity.
do not hear respectability coming from my speech – i am standing on a far different island of despair
see, i wear these labels like a thousand gold chains, but it is not my fault that i have no identity.
in fact, i share a common bond with the black & brown bodies in this place through that.
we live in a world that has snatched identity right from our grip & left us in that place, held captive.
we have been gentrified, seen apartheid, felt the wicked hand of militarized police & worked for little to nothing, hoping we could get a little dignity.
we have been seen secondary to coffee shops & the comfort of whiteness that lives on an island of ignorant bliss.
monilise was confused by the black body in the united states, because he thought they would offer his distant kin something greater than his own state of being.
monilise knew full well that the black & brown bodies in this country have been long contained by systems,.
he knew that these systems spoke of a new freedom granted, but indeed, his people were tortured & tamed.
what he had hoped for, was that upon my arrival, i would speak of a great place, where he could be free if he worked hard & saved up.
sadly enough, i could not give him what he wanted & actually, i had to tell him that i hoped for the same type freedom to be given unto me in coming here.

i am not disappointed, just made aware of this universal truth:
there is no place in the world where the black or brown body is free.
i am learning, history’s many stories of marginalization are not separate, they are all interlocked.
these stories come together through the sins of abused power & greed.
i believe that god, in the beginning, gave us all we needed, but that we lacked trust, so we took.
in this time & place, i find this shared struggle to be a bit endearing.
i am learning & growing from a people who know what it means to be in long-standing pain.
we are journeying together in struggle, in despair, in a hope that one day, absolute freedom will come.
our struggles have different storylines in specific, but are bound in the fact that, our human life & dignity are on the line daily.
there is no need to suffocate one’s struggle to fully hear another’s; we share in this brokenness together.

where is the hope?
maybe we should not be so quick to rush to that place.
what if we just sat here in this sorrow, instead of logging out to escape sad news.
if there is hope, at least through the lens of christianity, it is that brokenness always is redeemed by resurrection.
if our stories walk alongside that, then maybe freedom is beyond this life.
is that really hope? i do not have the answer.
i, am far too carnal sometimes, & i that causes me to wonder, what the purpose of being on earth is.
what i do know is, i find the love of song & dance here to be so sacred.
it appears to be the most direct sign of reconciliation in this place.
i have fell in love with this, too.
when i sing & when i dance, with this beautiful community, it seems that i have a control over my body that feels quite foreign.
it seems as if when we join together in these two, we are shouting out to god, saying that we believe you have promised more & sit here in expectancy.
yes, the world hurts, but while we have breath in our bodies for just this little while, let’s celebrate what we do have.
that is peace beyond my understanding, far too vast for me to attempt to give words to.
this peace gives me hope, even if the state of our world tries to drain that hope.

  • rjmy

chapter III might not be free, either…

chapter I – when the time comes.

please enjoy this preamble from before i approach…

dear loved one,

i’ve been dying for the time to ask you this;

in the midst of the time moving, are you ever not with it?

have you ever volunteered yourself to more stable standing than this?

have you ever found yourself in such stillness that you are like stone?

has your mind ever ceased itself from quivering in the half-hearted dormancy of task?

has your heart ever dared itself to beat in such a way that it mocks the rhythm of life?

have you ever had the guts to tell yourself that day & night are the only formalities we have to hold?

when has all of this ever been in doubt for you?

oh, the way in which the sun & moon dance around our anxious souls,

we are begging for our efforts to be requited with a pause for adoration,

but lo – time hauls on.

if time marches to a certain rhythm, then why, oh why, loved one, does a second feel so elongated when my eyes are caught staring at its breast?

it feels as if my brain is cramped by anticipation, of what, i do not yet have the aptitude to fathom,  but i stand, loved one – an unsettled soul.

i am rushing the time to move me to an undisclosed location.

& it is there, i am hoping that time will release me from its captive clutch.

time,

its stench has entangled my heart in feelings that what is next is what is free.

its promises strangle my headspace so, thus creating a scarcity of oxygen in my medulla oblongata.

how can i then, form a thought to crawl towards the freedom that has promised me that it lies ahead?

let me also ask this of you,

when have you not been held responsible to the tic of your timepiece?

when have you said to yourself, ‘today, before i do, i must first, be’?

after all, have you not heard it said before this?

we are not human doings, we are human beings.

& before we are ever caught doing, we have first become.

therefore, the duty in which we are called to is always bound up in who we present ourselves as.

today, i charge thy soul to explore what it is to be.

to not lock thyself captive to the misrepresented slavery that is accomplishment.

you are lonely in that place, & there is no longer need to deny such.

we all need breath to carry on,

& it is breath that is that stable ground to build upon.

your body finds an unrecognizable peace there, loved one.

it is there,  you will realize that the seconds on a clock tick aimlessly,

but you, loved one , you will land one day soon.

whenever the time so chooses to come.

                                                                                                          rjmy.

 chapter I – releasing my timepiece

is time a human created concept?

if so, who’s to blame for the fact that we are never satisfied with it?

& if thousands of years are just a twinkle in god’s eye, then what exactly is the need for seconds, minutes, and hours?

at times, i feel in purgatory to these minuscule ways we measure the moments,

it’s because i’m always so zealous for the next best one.

somehow, they all pass on with a distinct silence & i am then left confused with what to make of all the time we spent in that place.

i find myself near blood thirsty for time to move me into something better.

i catch myself peaking at my iphone by the second, expecting myself to accelerate time by constantly staring.

it’s as if i’m certain time looks upon me with favor and will bring me the things i feel i deserve for waiting the way it asks me to.

as it is, those yet to be seen moments just won’t approach me soon enough,

so i am given an ultimatum: adapt or perish.

they say time waits on no person, so i would wither away here if i expected time to acquiesce my hope.

so, what shall we say?

is time, in of itself, a waste or are we wasting time by overlooking the beauty of right now?

——-

in being here, i am challenged with time.

this has been a great thing & i rejoice in the ways that this time has renewed me.

in fact, if you asked me to give you a one word answer about how i feel at this time along this road,

i would say,  renewed.

i am finding myself in both familiar & unfamiliar spaces.

in both of these settings, time is asking me to do one simple thing with her: “slow down & be with me.”

this did not feel as if it were a foreign idea before i arrived to this place.

i’ve always thought myself to be well timed in my steps.

& i would say this time has not told me that i was living a lie,

no, instead, it has reminded me that there’s no need to rush it.

yes, there may be moments approaching that seem greater than these seconds,

but why isn’t being right here at this time enough?

why are you so anxious, ry?

these questions have often filled my aforementioned headspace.

i’ve often had to require myself time to draw a deep breath since the day i moved into my flat in umphumulo.

i came into this village expecting serendipity – an unorthodox perfection in the way i speak, think, & feel.

this, loved ones, exhausted my body beyond measure.

i’ve felt my body examine its surroundings & attempt to self-depricate.

i cannot recall the times under bated breath, my body has spoken the words, “i cannot be here.”

this, is because, i came here to do – and do damn well.

my body so dearly cherishes the things i have been able to do over the last few years.

traveling, experiencing, and rubbing elbows with extraordinary human beings has been like sipping of the finest south african wine.

i have been able to create, collaborate, and innovate;

these times have been life for me.

yet, loved ones, here, i am none of those things i’ve done.

in this community, i am known for what i am being.

this, has been humbling, but has also offered me this quirky sort of redemption that i am falling in love with.

my life is not just a run on sentence, as it seems to be in the places i call home;

here, i am the man waiting for the next word after the comma that i have been to this point in time.

however, you should know, i am not searching for this word anymore,

it will be shown to me as i continue to show up & be.

moreover, the pace of time, here has shown me the fruit of deep patience.

a patience that says, “today, you may fail, & that’s okay.”

i’ve always been afraid to fail you, loved ones.

falling short seemed like the point of no return upon making my decision to be here.

i remember telling myself that every day had to be flawless or as close to it as humans may come;

this is because you believe in me.

you took a leap of faith in allowing me to come be on this journey.

how dare i waste our time otherwise?

in choosing to be here every single day, i have unlearned this self-imposed stress.

a lesson that my zulu family has taught me is that being able to see another day is progress alone,

& that it is always better to fail than to fail to try.

oh, how thankful i am for those words.

as the time has progressed, i’ve found this unmistakable beauty in right now.

this day may seem empty to you, but imagine what this time means to someone else.

on this day: life, death, celebration, and defeat happened somewhere.

& it was all remarkable & necessary in its own remarkable way.

if i’m learning anything, it is that there’s never a day that means nothing at all.

i could be bound to the four walls of my living quarters or out exploring something unfamiliar;

today has its own distinct purpose & value that can’t be duplicated.

today is the only day you get this day, so love it like it’s yours.

today, i am choosing to value your worth, time.

today, i hear you when you say that it doesn’t matter from where you come, but that you exist.

today, i don’t want to forsake you by manipulating the meal you’ve served me, time.

today, i am nourished in your name.

amen.

rjmy

chapter II is imminent…