Lying by Sam Harris

I picked up Lying by Sam Harris last night while trying to avoid finishing my exam prep (because I was suffering a firm of anxiety), and have just finished reading the essay.

I’ve just never understood why we see a need to lie, even for the most innocent reasons. There’s absolutely no reason to lie, writes Harris, none whatsoever. We’ve all lied so not to upset family and friends, but that too is unjustifiable. There are other ways to keep everyone happy without losing favour with any of them.

Cementing a philosophy I live by: If you find anything or person in a certain state, the best you can do for them is elevate them to better. If you can’t do that then leave them as you found them. Do not walk away from anything and leave it in a worse state than you found it.

Morality is at the centre of this philosophy, yet even morality can be skewed depending on who it benefits. So books such as the continually keep me in check, continuously questioning my views.

“How would your relationships change if you resolved never to lie again? What truths might suddenly come into view in your life? What kind of person would you become? And how might you change the people around you?

It is worth finding out.”

He writes in short form, making quick points in very short chapters. I enjoyed this a great deal.

In a nutshell, do not lie.

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The 5 AM Club by Robin Sharma

Eight chapters in and I’m just about ready to give up on this book. Having picked it up to get away from the depth of Baldwin and Biko, I’ve spent the last two days waiting for something, some pointers, in @robinsharma’s #the5amclub. What I’ve gotten so far is a stretched build-up to the 5 AM routine, four nameless characters and a truckload of quotations from famous people.

I’ve also been rolling eyes a lot while going through the thin narrative, which is in many ways unrealistic. Apart from a mention of South Africa and the training taking place in Mauritius, I feel this book is for people with nice life problems. People who can go to a seminar, be given the opportunity to go off to paradise the next morning, and say yes without hesitation. I think the way the romance manifests between two of the characters was the last straw.

I dislike not finishing books, but I feel that halfway is good enough effort to get nothing out of a text. Mind you, I’ve read Lead Without A Title and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, the latter piloting my activism career a decade ago.

#imagecred: @jaico_publishing_house

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

“Ah was wid dem white chillun so much till Ah didn’t know Ah wuzn’t white till Ah was round six years old. Wouldn’t have found it out then, but a man come long takin’ pictures and without askin’ anybody, Shelby, dat was de oldest boy, he told him to take us. Round a week later de man brought de picture for Mis’ Washburn to see and pay him which she did, then give us all a good lickin’.

“So when we looked at de picture and everybody got pointed out there wasn’t nobody left except a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Dat’s where Ah wuz s’posed to be, but Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark chile as me. So Ah ast, ‘where is me? Ah don’t see me.’

“Everybody laughed, even Mr. Washburn. Miss Nellie, de Mama of de chillun who come back home after her husband dead, she pointed to de dark one and said, ‘Dat’s you, Alphabet, don’t you know yo’ ownself?’

“Dey all useter call me Alphabet ’cause so many people had done named me different names. Ah looked at de picture a long time and seen it was mah dress and and mah hair so Ah said:

“ ‘Aw, aw! Ah’m colored!’

“Den dey all laughed real hard. But before Ah seen de picture Ah thought Ah wuz just like de rest.

“Us lived dere havin’ fun till de chillun at school got to teasin’ me ’bout livin’ in de white folks’ back-yard. Dere wuz uh knotty head gal name Mayrella dat useter git mad every time she look at me. Mis’ Washburn useter dress me up in all de clothes her gran’chillun didn’t need no mo’ which still wuz better’n whut de rest uh de colored chillun had. And then she useter put hair ribbon on mah head fuh me tuh wear. Dat useter rile Mayrella uh lot. So she would pick at me all de time and put some others up tuh do de same. They’d push me ’way from de ring plays and make out they couldn’t play wid nobody dat lived on premises. Den they’d tell me not to be takin’ on over mah looks ’cause they mama told ’em ’bout de hound dawgs huntin’ mah papa all night long. ’Bout Mr. Washburn and de sheriff puttin’ de bloodhounds on de trail tuh ketch mah papa for whut he done tuh mah mama. Dey didn’t tell about how he wuz seen tryin’ tuh git in touch wid mah mama later on so he could marry her. Naw, dey didn’t talk dat part of it atall. Dey made it sound real bad so as tuh crumple mah feathers. None of ’em didn’t even remember whut his name wuz, but dey all knowed de bloodhound part by heart.”

I finished reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God last night and spent the day thinking about how one even begins to write about such a rich text. The above quotation might do me some justice.

I’m continually confronted with the dilemma of purpose, as I was earlier in the day when a friend noted, in frustration, “My existential crisis is that I don’t know what I should be doing with my life.” “Begin living without doing anything with your life. It will work itself out,” was my response. As familiar as her ‘crisis’ may be, I could not bring myself to providing her with a to-do list about how to turn herself into a ‘purpose driven individual’, simply because she would herself have to figure out the why outside of the how which the world so demands of us.

Janie walks back into the town her late husband built wearing overalls. She is dust beaten and exhausted from a long journey, and is welcomed by sneers and gossip. Before she reaches the porch of her own house the town has made up their own minds as to why she would return and what could have happened to this woman who left without as much as a goodbye.

I read this book with an awful amount of familiarity, recognising the Janie in myself.

Have you wondered how much of yourself is a result of what other people expected of you? If you didn’t have to wake up and “do what you need to do to get where you want to get” what would you be doing instead? Do you ever find yourself being reprimanded over doing things that come naturally to you and are seen as unproductive and backwards?

Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.”

Janie gets pulled from days spent under a pear tree and married off by her grandmother to an old geezer who humps her so hard she cannot have children. She falls in love with Jody Stark’s potential and runs of with him to the land of promise, an entire turn built by black folks.

There Janie spends over twenty years of her life on the high chair that her grandmother had intended her to sit on. She is married to the wealthiest man in town, “doing well for herself”, is what many of us would have called it, yet it was all at a cost to her being. She was a prisoner of Jody’s ambition. He had her on a pedestal for everyone to see and never dare touch. Covering her magnificent hair so men would not be enticed by it, putting her “in her place” every chance he got, and turning around and accusing her of malice the moment he smelled death coming for him, never seeing his own hand in it all.

“Ah done lived Grandma’s way, now Ah means tuh live mine.”

I’m always amused by names given by coincidence. I ravelled at the names in Noviolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, names of Zimbabweans who dared place themselves in Paradise within a country that had all but erased their existence. Godknows is my favourite character from there, just as Tea Cake is here. Son of the Evening Sun, is how Janie saw him.

A lot of people might struggle with the language in the text. I’ve watched The Help (still to read the book), Django unchained, The Colour Purple and Beloved, but this is the first time I’ve been confronted with reading the language of the American south. I’m not even sure what it’s called, but I’d recognise it from a mile away. The narration brought the story to life. Having to say most of the words out loud for then to make sense had me speaking in an accent, adding me to the crowd on the stoep of Jody’s shop, or the door of Tea Cake’s shack.

A woman married thrice? How dare she? What makes her think she can? Has she no pride, no shame, going around being with whoever she pleases? Would all of this matter had she not been half-cast?

I feel in love with Janie the moment she ran off from her first marriage, my love for her was renewed the moment she decided to begin again with Tea Cake, “so soon after her husband had passed” many had exclaimed. She was clear about having done her duties for the world. She had spent over twenty years of her life living in an acceptable manner, but no more.

“Janie is wherever Ah wants tuh be. Dat’s de kind uh wife she is and Ah love her for it. Ah wouldn’t be knockin’ her around. Ah didn’t wants whup her last night, but ol’ Mis’ Turner done sent for her brother tuh come tuh bait Janie in and take her way from me. Ah didn’t whup Janie ’cause she done nothin’. Ah beat her tuh show dem Turners who is boss. Ah set in de kitchen one day and heard dat woman tell mah wife Ah’m too black fuh her. She don’t see how Janie can stand me.”

When Tea Cake, like “any ol’ man”, succumbs to his jealously and strikes Janie, I’m awoken from this infatuation I’m in with Janie. I’m expecting her to leave, to walk away, but she doesn’t, because although her other husband’s have never laid a hand on her, they exerted their power over her in the best way they knew how. Logan with his experience, Stark with his wealth, and now Tea Cake with his love. And so she stayed, this time not because she felt obligated to, but because she recognised the mad dog that would awake when a man’s pride was threatened.

“She tried to make them see how terrible it was that things were fixed so that Tea Cake couldn’t come back to himself until he had got rid of that mad dog that was in him and he couldn’t get rid of the dog and live. He had to die to get rid of the dog. But she hadn’t wanted to kill him. A man is up against a hard game when he must die to beat it. She made them see how she couldn’t ever want to be rid of him.”

And so she comes home, after having to kill the dog that her husband had become, she returns. She sits in her backyard and recounts the events that had led her to that point to her friend Phoebe, knowing full well that everyone else had already made up their minds. She doesn’t tell her life story because she wants to disprove any myths or right any wrong, not even so the community she so rashly left behind would embrace her. She does so because she owes it to herself to tell her own story, and so she does.

Image credit: @meaningfulmadness

Of children and burning

“A child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel it’s warmth.”

I read this proverb on Takalani’s blog (thabangthinks.com) this morning and was forced to recollect where I had read about a similar scenario.

At first I thought of Ben Okri’s Azaro in the Famished Road. Living inbetween two worlds, this adaku, Azaro caused his parents quite a lot of heartache. But that wasn’t it. I don’t remember fire in the narrative, apart from that used for cooking Madam Koto’s backyard.

Amos Tutuola’s The Palmwine Drinkard, on the other hand, steals a wife from a spirit and three wife gives birth to a fully grown child through her thumb. Talk about trauma. Then this child eats up everything and doesn’t allow his parents any rest, until they resort to burning him in a house and fleeing.

Not exactly what the proverb implies, but I’ve gotten to the botton of the wander.

This is a note I made after reading the book amost a year ago:

“The first African novel published in English outside of Africa, Amos Tutuola’s the Palm-wine Drinkard has pulled at a nostaglic string in the whimsical web of my childhood. It’s ridiculously fantastic, lattice of magic. The language so close to home.

Of course I found myself back in the pages of other books, as I usually am. This reminded me of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa’s Indaba My Children, except it is such a messy storyline, so exaggerated that you find yourself wide-eyed one moment and squinting in disbelief the next. I giggled, and suffered loud cracks of laughter often, but would be horrified the very next second. Like, “What?… Huh??? No man… Yho!…” All in one breath.

I’m rejuvenated. I feel like anything is possible after all this juju and travel to find one dead palm-wine tapper. An exhaustive read.”

#imagecredit: @afreada

Afrocentric Literature and Pedagogy

My children and I spent the day out at Botaki Ba Afrika for an event hosted by Bookworms ZA under the theme, Afrocentric Literature and Pedagogy, where we interacted with Tumelo Moleleki, Ekow Duker, and Lesego Diutlwileng Poetry.

Afrocentric literature, according to Molefi K Asante, is a literature bereft of Eurocentric influence, a literature that puts the African art the centre of his experiences. How do we make sure that African children have access to and make use of this type of literature, was the question that I heard being asked throughout the session.

I walked in during a session with one of the member of Siyafunda Donate-a-Book. He was commenting on the irrelevance of Shakespeare in African schools, making a case for the removal of such books in favour of those that the children can relate to. This point was reiterated by Tumelo Moleleki, when she mentioned that we need to first get out house in order and only then invite the West to the table.

I like the concept of the table. I first read about it in the introduction to Ndumiso Dladla’s Book titled, Here is a Table: A Philosophical Essay on History and Race in South Africa. There he goes into the rationale behind the book title, how this table is developed from Robert Sobukwe’s African Tree is used to build Steven Biko’s table, a table which African people have taken back possession of and arranged it in African style. A table from which they will invite European people who are willing to sit at such a table. The point being that the terms set going forward need to be those of the African.

“How is this to be done?”, we continually ask. From whence do we decolonised?

Ngugi was Thiongo’s book, Decolonosing the Mind is four chapters long, all of which interrogate language use in literature, theatre, and fiction, and closing off with a quest for relevance. “If the point is to decolonise, then should we be having this discussion on a European language?” This was a question, asked in a manner of ways, reiterated in meetings of The Afrosophical Club. A question we entertain to the point of agreeing that English in its universality is inclusive of all imitated parties and is this suited for the set agenda. We entertain it till we agree that there are too many of our own languages to pick only one.

I don’t speak a pure language, I keep saying, and this is for to the fact that I grew up in a family that embraced the fluidity of language. I spoke what I needed to speak at any given time. English at school, Setswana with my father, Selobedu with my aunt, Afrikaans with my mother, … it depended on the context. I find that sub-languages, like the Sepitori I’ve grown to embrace, are overlooked when the translation debate is had. Meshing together a myriad of languages to ensure the connectivity of people from backgrounds just as vast, Sepitori and the likes, do more for me than pure Setswana would.

I had fallen into the habit of buying ‘African Children’s Literature’ when Atang was only a few months old. I did this till the one book about an elephant turned out to be half in Sestwana, and the other half in Sesotho. So irritated was I about the issue that I wrote to the publisher, only to the referred to the international office, who never got back to me. If you’ve ever taken the time to interrogate a number of local language children’s stories in mainstream circulation, you’ll realise that they are either English fables translated just translated, very few being by African authors. This is sadly also the state of mother-tongue school curricular. To translate it back into a language does not necessarily make it Afrocentric.

Teaching literature that is central to the experience of the African, that was the gist of the conversation. To hold a mirror up for African children to see themselves in the stories they read, making it easier for them a write about their own worlds.

Responding to how we can get children interested in consuming Afrocentric literature, I brought up the oral nature of storytelling that I was exposed to as a child, citing Bame Nsamenang’s theory of social ontogenesis and the salient role played by peers in the African child’s development. Let the children not only read stories, let them also sit and tell stories to you and to each other. This encourages them to keep going back and forth trying to find new angles of interest and better forms of articulation.

I may not have been articulate myself when making this point, which would be seen as a fail by my Philosophy professor. “To be logical, is to be clear in your argument”, he would say. Ekow responded by asserting that a focus on only oral literature limits us to only those stories we would dare speak aloud, using Kabelo K Duiker’s The Quiet Violence of Dreams as an example.

There are terms I’ve grown suspicious of. Separatist terms that give the impression that the work of undoing and the subsequent relearning is the work of one group of people. That when a certain Professor speaks only a certain type of person should hear him. Or that when certain people gather under the auspice of books, then others are not allowed. I am suspicious of these terms because they assume that the best way for a victim to heal from violation is to sit with other victims and sing kumbaya, when in actual fact the perpetrator must sit alongside the victim at the very table that acts as restorative agent for both parties. One his dignity, and the other his consciousness.

I’m happy to have been at the launch of the Bookworm Booksessions in Pretoria. It felt good to be around philosophers again, always learning, never assuming knowledge. I’m thankful that these spaces continue to be accommodative to not just us with erratic minds, but our highly active children as well. Special shout out to Zama and Hamilton for babysitting Atang and Hamilton’s mom for being his crib when he fell asleep, allowing me moments where I could also listen.

There was a question I wanted to ask though, on a concept I learned from Lewis Gordon on the attractiveness of knowledge. When I was running nerdafrica book club sessions, I realised that more and more people that came to the sessions were not reading the books beforehand and this always led to the conversation stretching from a general idea of the book and not necessarily the content. This happened even if the attendants had bought the book. So the issue was not that they did not own copies of the book, they just didn’t read it. I’ve been wondering, if reading, because it is a popular topic, is turning into another fad. Are we saying we are reading because it is now the seen as the new cool?