Monday, August 18, 2008
Bottling time and space
Er, I am here to work, I promise.
As the Air Malawi flight started to sink down towards Jozi town I closed my eyes and tried to seal in the sights, sounds, smells and voices that I've gathered around me the last three weeks. A slight sense of panic. I've been plugged in to a massive, organically shifting reality. The slipstream of meetings and interviews, the images streaking past the fastmoving glass of the big white 4x4.
Rushed meetings: with technocrats speaking about their 'upstream' efforts to help Malawi meet the Millenium Development Goals. 'Upstream' means the stuff they do with government: a lot of meetings, a lot of documents, policy papers, positioning statements, draft bills, roadmaps for change. 'Downstream' means the stuff they do at, yes you got it - grassroots level. The actual projects, that may or may not put food in bowls, drugs in bodies and water on soil. The technocrats I speak to are fluent in their use of TLA's (three letter acronyms). They say 'there's a document you should look at - I'll share it with you..' I protest faintly 'soft copy, soft copy,' I moan, and show them my creaking backpack and hand over my flashdisc for a swift transfer of graphs, pie charts, and turgid narratives studded with capital letters.
Rushed interviews: hello, this is us and this is what we want and oh can we take a few photos? Your name again? Your story? This project helping you? Excellent. Sorry, gotta go, people at the next project waiting for us. Cheerio. And we seal ourselves up into our airconditioning and burn a few more litres of fossil fuel to get to the next one where the patient, well schooled beneficiaries await us with their songs and handclaps.
Rushed pictures: F the french fotoman glowers in the car, as we use his best morning hours to get to the project. He watches ze light bloom and ripen and spoil. By the time we arrive its all harsh light on dark skin... terrible, terrible, he mutters and grumps his way through the morning, throwaway gestures accompanied by lots of "pffff". We wish we had whole days, weeks, to really soak it in, talk to people, move with them as they do their chores. Alas, its click and go, and by the time ze light has matured into something delicious again we are on our way back. Its the rules.
As the plane dips I utter some silent spells, to try and keep it all in. There hasn't been time to write up my brimming notes. The voice recorder I brought with has failed me somehow, and the memory on the phone is full. I fear my brain is also faulty, clogged up with too much jargon. I whisper a protective spell, to keep out the assaulting montage of Joburg clutter that I know will penetrate, and I fear will displace it all. Silly. I must trust the process I've been through. The fact that while I was there I just focused on mindful listening, on being present in my shoes and my breath. That should be enough. What is worthwhile will float to the surface. Or sink to the bottom, whichever way you wanna spin the metaphor.
When I get home, to all the delights that home wraps around me, I am so grateful to myself that I tidied my desk before I left. And on my noticeboard, the great words of Rilke transcend it all:
"What birds plunge through is not the intimate space
in which you see all forms intensified
(Out in the Open, you would be denied
your self, would disappear into that vastness)
Space reaches from us and construes the world:
To know a tree, in its true element,
throw inner space around it, from that pure
abundance in you. Surround it with restraint.
It has no limits. Not til it is held
in your renouncing is it truly there."
- Rainer Maria Rilke.