Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Poem on Growing Old: Little Old Ladies

In Memoriam Stephanie Auspitz....
This poem of mine was published a few years ago in an anthology.

Little old ladies with pink ribbons in their hair,
soft, blushed, pink cheeks that smell of violet powder
when you hug and kiss them, and pretend they will
not die nor disappear in their little blue coats,

their tiny feet dressed up nicely against the chill,
the wise smile on their lips whispering how you ought
to not love ‘em so much nor cherish them so dearly,
for when the time comes they will wave bye bye gently,

lay their fragile body and their little wrinkled
hands to rest, their soft white hair elegantly brush’d,
the wise smile on their lips now hiding their little
secrets, the memories of lives past, forever asleep.

Bethesda, Dec 1 - 2, 2000

© 2000 Sarah Pickup Diligenti

Sunday, September 6, 2009

District 9 - The Movie, or the Mother of Metaphors on Xenophobia and Racism

Originally a movie based on real events that took place in South Africa (District 6 in Cape Town was declared a White-Only area in 1966 and forced removals and evictions started in 1968. By 1982, more than 60,000 persons had been relocated 25 km from District 6 and all standing buildings been bulldozed but for the houses of worship), the South African movie, District 9, is so strong that it becomes the Mother of Metaphors on Xenophobia and Racism.

District 9 is a science fiction movie, and as such, does a good job at exposing our very human feelings vis-à-vis all things alien. The undesirable “alien” population who lives in District 9, Johannesburg, is indeed rather… different. The movie director did not go as far as totally removing all resemblance with our species. These "aliens" are able to stand erect on their two hind legs, have arms, and a head, and have a language (even so, I was thankful for the subtitles: I did not understand a single word they uttered). These aliens are alien in as much as they do look like giant shrimps, with their skin made of some hard carapace/scale and their head with the little tentacles that give them a funny mustache. They came on a mother ship that hangs over Johannesburg and has been hanging there for 20 years when the movie starts. They “landed” on Earth when the humans opened up the ship, found them starving inside, and carried them into refugee camps to feed and heal them… thus creating the slum that is now District 9 at the beginning of the movie.

Twenty years later, the threshold of tolerance is reached and xenophobia rises. A system of segregation (really, of Apartheid) separates the “non-humans” from the “humans” and the government through an agency called MNU (Multinational United, a wink to UNO?) decides to relocate the aliens further away in an altogether new refugee camp, presented as the ultimate refugee camp for cleanliness and hygiene. Evictions are served, and I will try not to spoil the movie further as I share the thoughts and challenging moments it raised in me.

Of course, I commend the director and its team. Deciding upon a reasonably alien-looking creature (a giant shrimp) but keeping the main characteristics of what’s make us superior mammals (standing erect, a developed language and a highly developed technology… much higher than ours as is always the case in science-fiction movie) is a coup de maître. The human species’ destiny in science-fiction movies always seems to be that of the mean moronic Nazi in post World War 2 movies that brought good conscience to nations who didn’t dare examine their past or their actions during the war: the Nazis were cruel to the point of stupidity, had technology, but the smart French Resistant always outdid them (no word on the French collaboration!). Here again the same scenario: the aliens have a much higher technology than the humans, but eat tinned cat food (they do not even bother to open the cans!) and get done by a bunch of illegal Nigerians who sell them hundreds of cat food cans for money, or, even better, their alien weapons. These latter are useless to humans because they work only on contact with the proper DNA. The Nigerian chief in his wheel chair is as avid of this alien technology as the MNU, South African government and by extension the Western world. But hush!

The aliens are nicknamed “prawns” by the humans. Immediately come to mind the innumerable lists of derogatory terms/slurs humans created and used every time they felt threatened by someone. From slavery-related words to segregation and Apartheid, from “Yid” to “Jude”, from the Dreyfus Affair to Nazi Germany and anti-Semitic Poland and current France, from “bicot” to “raton” to “Paki” in the post-colonization era, from “limies” to “frogs” to “macaroni” to “slant-eyes” to “red skin”, human creativity in language seems unfortunately at is best when it is speaking out hatred and fear of the alien. Is xenophobia truly such a linguistic asset of the human mind? I shiver at the thought.

When the evictions are served, other images invade the spectator’s mind. Not that I lived World War 2, or any other war, but famous pictures of the Warsaw Ghetto came to me, the little boy with his hands up… Images of millions of displaced persons, in Rwanda, in Sudan, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, ending up parked like cattle in refugee camps… Images of Gaza and the wall that cuts the Holy Land in two, on the one side of the wall, the wealthy Israelis, on the other side, Palestinians surviving in squalid conditions... Images of the shacks in Brazil, India or elsewhere that make our planet, the “planet of slums”…

District 9 goes beyond being a metaphor on what the Apartheid regime was. District 9 illustrates the consequences of hatred and contempt for the Other, the Human Alien Other, legal or illegal.

The Warsaw Ghetto Picture….

Vietnamese Refugee in Thailand

Refugee Camp in Gaza