There’s been a lot of awful news this week. But in the middle of that, beauty and joy persist. Here are a few things that reminded me of that.
Rabih Alameddine’s Tweet Stream
You may remember that I read and loved Alameddine’s novel An Unnecessary Woman. In that novel, Aliyaa lives in a world of books, art and music, and she also lives in Beirut. Violence is part of her world, just as much as beauty. Ultimately, I think the novel shows that art can’t (or shouldn’t) be an escape from life, but it is a part of life, probably even a necessary part. Beauty is not less real than chaos.
I recently (because of his World Cup tweeting and posts) started following Alameddine on Twitter. This week, his tweets, like his novel, have represented both art and political chaos. He has tweeted about Gaza, and he has tweeted a daily poem and images of artworks. I have been so glad to have those drawings, paintings and mosaics show up in my feed alongside photos of air strikes, tanks, and the wreckage of a downed passenger jet.
Big Fat Book Music
I have no interest in enhanced ebooks for fiction. I want to be immersed in a fictional world, not pulled out by links to related images, music, and information. For non-fiction, it’s a bit different–I sometimes seek out my own enhancements when I read.
David Van Reybrouck explains that the only images included in his book Congo are maps because “I value photography highly as an independent form of discourse”–he didn’t want to include photos as illustrations. For the most part, I’ve respected that. His descriptions evoke places and people clearly enough that I haven’t felt Googling a picture of Mobutu, say, would add anything to my reading. But this week, I enhanced my reading with a little YouTube music (Van Reybrouck points out in the book that you can find the songs there).
I have reached the halfway point in the book and the early post-colonial years of the 1960s. They were certainly a time of chaos. The decolonization of the Congo was a rushed affair. Belgium had allowed native people into only the lowest levels of the government, army, and civil service. A few Congolese were invited to study in Europe, but they were limited to fields like psychology and education. Thus Belgium left behind a country ill-prepared for independence–and the former colonizer kept control of as much of that country’s wealth as possible:
On the day of its independence, the country had sixteen university graduates. And although there were hundreds of well-trained nurses and policy advisers, the Force Publique did not have a single black officer. There was not one native physician, not one engineer, not one lawyer, agronomist, or economist.
[T]he decolonization had begun much too late, independence came much too early. Disguised as a revel, the breakneck emancipation of Congo was a tragedy that could only end in disaster.
But on the brink of independence, before the years of political chaos and civil war, there was joy. As there should have been. Van Reybrouck is lamenting not independence, but the way Belgium shirked its responsibility in planning for and supporting it. When the date for independence was agreed on, the popular band African Jazz composed the “Indépendance Cha-Cha.” And here they are performing it. That’s pretty cool.
I also heard “Jamais Kolonga,” a song which made its title character something of a celebrity in the Congo after he danced with a white woman at a European wedding. Later, Kolonga became a radio journalist and reported on the independence ceremonies. Van Reybrouck tracked down the elderly, ailing, but still vibrant Kolonga and interviewed him for the book.
A Word From A Monk
I subscribe to a daily email from the Society of Saint John the Evangelist called “Brother, Give Us a Word.” Each day there is a short reflection on a word from one of the brothers. Yesterday’s word was “call,” and I don’t think you have to be religious to appreciate what Br. Curtis Almquist (who went to seminary with my dad) has to say about it:
This is where you’ve been called; these are the pitifully, painfully inadequate resources you’ve been given to work with; this is the talent pool from which you can draw; this is the weather that you find; and with wide eyes, you sow and sow and sow the very best seeds of life and love among those with whom you live and work.
The world could use more sowing of life and love. I hope some beauty finds you this week.