Monday, August 3, 2009

Innocence after Violence: "It's Our Turn to Eat" by Michela Wrong

Jo Hunter Adams

How does one turn back the clock after personal violence?

After being impressed by "I Didn't Do it For You" and "In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz", it was hard not to dive right into the pdf of "It's Our Turn to Eat" e-mailed to me the day after the book came out in print. But I managed to hold back long enough to order it via our awesome Watertown library. Ironically, the print book is much more easily accessible in Boston than in Nairobi.

How does one think about corruption in the context of colonialism, post-colonialism and neo-colonialism? Usually very, very carefully. In contrast, Michela Wrong manages to capture a lot of the conflicts of Kenyan society by describing the story of one man. She manages to navigate difficult territory courageously. The protagonist, Githongo, epitomizes some of the conflicts in modern Kenya. Rather than attempt to summarize the whole story badly, I'll just say "read it!"

I'll highlight one section. The book concludes with a discussion of the 2008 post-election violence-- violence in the context of profoundly rooted corruption. People who had never thought their lives were defined by ethnicity or tribal identity found themselves with exactly those labels after the elections. People were killed as a result of their ethnicity. One question that brings is, 'how do you go back after that?' Violence is an identity-shifting experience. Although there is something reminiscent of Rwanda in the violence, it's also very different, as Kenya's history is very different.

So, it seems impossible to live as though there had been no violence-- to say and live the way one did before, defying categorizations of Luo or Kikuyu or.. Yet I doubt people want to be in a society where prejudice and division is one's best defense; I doubt people want to believe that another, equally exploited group is out to get them.

When we have a desire to return to innocence, but we can't at any deep level, what do we do? What does a society do? This is a question to ask of tons of difficult experiences and tragedies that are woven into our lives. Is it a choice to either become hardened and defensive or pretentiously unaffected? Is there another way?

For further reading (after you read "It's Our Turn to Eat"!) check out Mzalendo, "Eye on Kenyan Parliament"

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