“In Darfur”: Is There Merit to Living the Status Quo?

I just returned from seeing “In Darfur.” I’m literally still shaking from the violence. Despite the trigger warnings we were given, my body was not ready for this. If I’m shaking from the renactment, imagine how my sisters Hawa and Hamida on the ground in Darfur are feeling. Some plays and films based on real life happenings have the tendency to sometimes make you weep during the portrayal, leaving little room for even those hilariously funny parts which I’m sure are just as real as the pain, even on the ground.

“In Darfur” didn’t make me weep though; it just terrified me for the entire 90 minutes I was immersed in it. First thought I had when the actors returned to take their bows was: “I need a drink!” Sadly for me, I was on-call so there was not going to be any alcohol involved in abating this terror.  This was just as well; the alcohol would probably have just made me sleepy. I couldn’t stay for the talk back post the performance, because I just wanted to run home and bury my head in my comforter. It makes me angry that no matter who is fighting or for what reason, women and girls always seem to be caught in the middle. Their bodies free for all sides to wage war on. To “wishbone” as in Hawa’s case. To shove things in. I wanted to make it go away because I felt helpless. For about a year plus now, I have stopped watching the news because all it does is build terror in my heart. I know for an educated woman, this is no way to live life, but I had chosen that to be able to be healthy and live my status quo life, I had to bury my head in the sand at some point. But tonight, sitting with my terror, I wonder at what cost?

I used to be the naive girl who wanted to become a journalist like Maryke, a “Doctor Without Borders”, a UN aid worker like Carlos so I could “change the world” and “help my people.” I was going to join the Peace Corps and live among the marginalized masses. Along the way, I chose English and a general Humanities college experience because they said it was easy to apply those skills of critical thought and reasoning in just about any field.

After a brief stint in the morgue, I gave up the DWB dream. Blood and death was not for me. After doing some “inner-city” after-school programming, Katrina relief, and Critical Resistance and INCITE! organizing, I got the rude awakening. Working for the System wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. They packaged it well and some bought it. I was saved from purchasing. The System that was supposedly set-up to “help” or “aid” or provide “relief” on foreign borders was the same System that kept my kind forcibly sterilized, marching from school to prison, frisked, and hosed down.

I did “abroad studies” in Haiti, Morocco, and Egypt and finally returned to the continent in an attempt to live in Ghana, my birth country. While in Ghana, I realized that back here in my new home, even with a minimum wage job, I could pretty much guarantee electricity and running water. At the very least, I could use the library for my internet needs. And I could get a pay-as-you-go cell phone and be guaranteed service just about anywhere in the country.  If my minimum wage job didn’t cut it, I could potentially apply for welfare. I could report my sexist, racist, misogynistic collegaues or supers and there were things in place to make sure there was accountability. The systems that keep such basic needs in place in other areas of the world, like my birth country, do not exist, is broken, or is being misused and only given to those who can afford to pay exhorbitant prices for it.

So one could say I ran back to my “American life” of comfort. In the last two years since returning from my time on the continent, I have had to re-evaluate what I find to be necessary for me to live a healthy and balanced life. After losing David (my last boyfriend) to a senseless car accident and a shitty healthcare system in Ghana, I decided that since I had the choice, I would choose to live in my middle-class America, deal with all the racist bullshit I was dished knowing that I could turn on my tap and find running water, flip the switch and watch TV or cook, and definitely get efficient care within minutes of an emergency. I could work a respectable job in Academia where my ideas were valued and not deal with men who asked me to show my calves “a little bit more.” In essence, I decided to pick my poison.

In the two years of picking this specific poison I still live with some guilt, and on days like this, after seeing plays like “In Darfur” or “Ruined” (about the women caught in the DRC war) this guilt eats at me. I know there is always more that one can do to help some “cause.” From responsible donating and investing or sustainable lending like Kiva funding micro businesses by women, or appending my name to a petition or making a conscious status update or shopping ethically at Ten Thousand Villages. There is always more one can do if one chooses to do so. I’ve discovered through my work with Call to Action in Chicago, that there is merit to work done both inside and outside of the System. But is there merit to not doing anything at all? Feeling so overwhelmed and helpless that burying my head in my comforter is the best I can do? Or perhaps merely choosing to be kind and loving to my immediate neighbors while I continue to live my status quo life is.

Tonight I am faced with that question. Is there merit to doing nothing or doing the passive things? I haven’t written in two months and I thought I’d forgotten how. Tonight, I have remembered, and so I come to the desk again. I write because I think the keyboard is my ammunition for continuing the conversation. For preventing me from hiding in my comforter. For continuing to wrestle with these questions and the anguish that first led me to pursue a Humanities track. I have long abadoned the dreams of that idealistic girl who wanted to make something of herself in a track-setting way.  I have settled for the status quo and tonight, I am somewhat unhappy with the status quo. Is my writing enough to merit the “doing-something” button? Is there something wrong with living the status quo and feeling ok about it all?

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6 comments

  1. “In Darfur” blew my mind and heart too. The combination of journalistic realism (I mean, there’s the journalist, right in front of us, trying to convince us along with her high-heeled editor back in NYC) and the heightened theatricality was so profoundly moving and confusing at the same time. There were times during it where I found myself saying, “wait a minute, this is supposed to be theater, not a documentary that is convincing me of what I need to do in the world” and then I watched myself, my privileged ass in a cozy lawn chair being able to afford to go to a play, with my two daughters comfortably and safely ensconced in college having that thought. And then the play would literally explode in front of me again.

    We (my daughters and I) do have have to worry about violence against ourselves, and about the fact that we don’t make as much money as men in this country, etc., but we don’t have to worry about being wishboned. Or if we are raped and impregnated being tried and convicted of being adulteressess.

    I couldn’t stay for the playwright’s talk either — I had to go to my husband’s taproom halloween party and help out. It was surreal, to say the least, but at least friends who’d seen “In Darfur” were there with me. And at least I got to drink.

    thanks for your writing!

  2. I continue to believe that writing makes a difference, that it IS activism, IS doing something and has incredible power. Witness Winter Miller’s writing this play, which got you back to the keyboard and reaching out through writing again after a hiatus. That’s why the character of the journalist in IN DARFUR is so important. Who among us privileged folk wouldn’t prefer to bury our heads under the comforter when faced with the horrible reality that so many women and girls on this planet must live through? Guilt is not useful, as Audre Lorde said. Writing about it is–if only to raise awareness and trust that the ripples we send out from our pens and keyboards will reach the ones in power, who can act “on the ground” to do more for these women. We all must do what we can. I’m grateful to Kristen Van Ginhoven for having the courage to produce this play for our sheltered Berkshire audiences. The ripples will go out, through your blog and other channels. We must have faith that this is important work too.

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