Scorched Earth and the Template of the Dispossessed

by Patricia Schonstein

 

The Burundian artist, Serge Alain Nitegeka, has created a powerful installation at The Norval Art Museum called Structural Response III and I recently read a selection of poems alongside it.

Structural Response III is Nitegeka’s response to forced migration and the crises of refugees.
It is imposing and forms an obstacle that is not easily traversed.
It does not represent a place of new or even good fortune.
The view through it is tangled and not serene.
The predefined pathway through it is too narrow for the movement of vast columns of fleeing people.
The numerous heavy beams might be seen as dead-ends.
Some of the outer beams are exposed.
They might be seen as severed limbs
or as severed family ties
or as scars and lesions.
The whole might be seen as pick-up-sticks randomly thrown down symbolising the chaos rendered by genocide by war and by mass-displacement.
The whole might be seen
as the artistic attempt
to mantle the myriad dismantled cultures and lives.
The whole might be seen as a cage
constructed by non-welcoming societies
as they protect themselves from the perceived threat of the Displaced and the Dispossessed.
——————————————————————————————————————

THE POEMS:
Scorched Earth I
Darfur, Sudan June 2004
United Nations Official

If you go one-thousand kilometres
From here to Chad
You will not see a single intact village.

++++++++

Scorched Earth 2
Darfur, Sudan June 2004
Ewen MacAskill

During a three-hour flight over Darfur
hundreds of blackened and scorched villages were starkly visible against the red desert.

About thirty-thousand people
are estimated to have been killed in the past year.

One-point-two-million
have been displaced.

One-hundred-thousand
are taking refuge in neighbouring Chad.

++++++++

Scorched Earth 3

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe 2005
During the purges of Operation Murambatsvina Taxi driver As told to Patricia Schonstein

Let me just drive you in
To show you the township
What is going on there
Keep your camera down
I am afraid, yes
If they see me taking you in
I am just driving as though calm
You just sit as though calm
Now look at the houses
Now look at all the belongings thrown out Now look at the people You see them queuing for transport?
They must get out
There is no choice
You see the smoke?
The soldiers are burning everything
Keep your camera down
But please take the photos.

++++++++

They came at dawn on horses
Village of Shatee, west of the Mara mountains, Darfur, Sudan June 2004 Mrs Souad Omar Mousa

The Jamjaweed came at dawn.
They came on horses
donkeys camels and Land Cruisers.
They burnt the houses.
They killed the men.
They killed many of the male children.
I do not know if my husband is alive or dead.

++++++++

The last train across Ariat Bridge
Displaced Persons’ Camp, Northern Sudan 1998 Teresa Samuel Ibrahim As told to Patricia Schonstein

Because there was an ambush in my village and my husband was detained I decided to flee with the children to the north.
We waited for the train, we slept on the ground.
We had no good bedding or coverings.
Rain started. I started crying
because of the small children crying of rain and hunger.
I took the last train across Ariat with my children and some belongings.
The whistle of the train blew and we had some difficulties.
Everyone was pushing especially the soldiers.
The children were crying from being crushed.
I was crying and arguing with those who were overcrowding.
But they were also helpless.
I remained with my children: Dirty. Weak. Hungry.
We had only groundnuts to eat
and as we passed over Ariat Bridge
it was broken behind us by the rebels.
That was the last train to leave southern Sudan.
It took four days on the way between Ariat and Kosti.
Two nights later we arrived in Khartoum.
There was no place for us. No one was willing to take us because they also have their problems.
We settled with others in the desert outside Khartoum.
There was no shelter there, only some thorn trees.
The ones who could not take the train
arrived after walking two months.
Some died walking. Some drowned in the flood.
Some reached Khartoum thin with swollen legs with rashes and cracks.
We ourselves had some blankets and very little money.
Wood was difficult to get.
The only food was okra, some salt, water and wheat flour given to us by the Catholic Church.
We started cutting dry thorn trees to make rakuba.
This is the quickest way to make a shelter because if you are moving you can take it and erect it in the next place.
You cannot say if you will be forced to move again.
I decided to flee with the children to the north.
We waited for the train, we slept on the ground.
We had no good bedding or coverings.
Rain started. I started crying
because of the small children crying of rain and hunger.
I took the last train across Ariat with my children and some belongings.
The whistle of the train blew and we had some difficulties.
Everyone was pushing especially the soldiers.
The children were crying from being crushed.
I was crying and arguing with those who were overcrowding.
But they were also helpless.
I remained with my children: Dirty. Weak. Hungry.
We had only groundnuts to eat
and as we passed over Ariat Bridge
it was broken behind us by the rebels.
That was the last train to leave southern Sudan.
It took four days on the way between Ariat and Kosti.
Two nights later we arrived in Khartoum.
There was no place for us. No one was willing to take us because they also have their problems.
We settled with others in the desert outside Khartoum.
There was no shelter there, only some thorn trees.
The ones who could not take the train
arrived after walking two months.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Source of poems:

From Africa! My Africa – An Anthology of Poems ISBN 978-1-874915-20-1 The last train across Ariat Bridge by Teresa Samuel Ibrahim From Africa Ablaze! – Poems & prose pieces of war & civil conflict ISBN 978-1-874915-19-5 Scorched Earth 1 by anonymous United Nations Official Scorched Earth 2 by Ewen MacAskill Scorched Earth 3 by anonymous taxi driver They came at dawn on horses by Mrs Souad Omar Mousa

www.patriciaschonstein.com
www.norvalfoundation.org

Tagged with:
Posted in Poetry
Archives