Writing: Fragments from “Future History”

Below are several fragments from “Future History”. A story I wrote for: “We see a different frontier”, passed first reading by the team and which I withdrew and reworked due to complete unhappiness with the second half.

Fragments from “Future History”

Chapter 1: there has been a bombing of churches and shops.

Black barbie

[Beginning of chapter 2.]

Mickey Mouse, Coca Cola, Barbie, Baby Born, Wall Mart, Best Buy, Saturn, Media World, Lidl, Spar, Penny Market, Prada, Zara, Gucci, Douglas, Starbucks. McDonalds, Burger King. Roman Catholic church, Anglican church, Pentecostal church, New Apostolic church, Lutheran church, Seventh-day Adventist church. Siemens, Dell, IBM, Nokia, IKEA.

I had black Barbie and black Baby Born. We ate every Sunday with our parents at McDonalds after our church visit. My furniture is from IKEA.

What did I know?

.

I feel a clear sense of repulsion, anger, refusal. This damaged street is just one of the most recent reflection of decades and centuries in which our culture has been invaded and slowly destroyed by yours.

Resentment? Let me correct that: I hate you.

This is not our war. Still you bring it here, killing innocent bystanders just to make a point. To start a war. To get the green light from your mostly white population and your mostly male, mostly white decision-makers.

It does not matter that your ‘facts’ are no facts at all.

“Say no to piracy”

[Chapter 2.]

I walk on, down to Haile Selassi avenue to the place where another set of bombs hit several shops and restaurants from American and European franchises. The same image: flowers and fruits stacked in front of the ruins. The same emotions inside of me. Anger, rage.

A billboard, only slightly damaged, tilting slightly to the tight, the e-paper under the unbroken glass still working and updating, telling me to: “SAY NO TO PIRACY” and to: “report when you suspect someone of piracy” because: “Piracy damages our economy and therefore damages you!”

When I was sixteen they sold brandless shirts on the streets, before the street vendors were terrorized and bullied away by the police. I remember bootleg T-shirts and bootleg dresses were sold in shops until these shops were terrorized by lawyers hired by foreign companies.

Piracy. Theft.

We swapped hard drives and later SD-cards stacked with software, music, movies, e-books: using netbooks and cheap Chinese tablets. Bypassing the need for an internet-connection. Absorbing knowledge, reading about the things nobody else would teach us otherwise because we were too poor to buy the books. Being taught by my mother, teaching each other when mom was not there.

Piracy.

We produce the T-shirts, the clothing, the branded bags, the hardware in Chinese owned factories; the work outsourced to us. The produce is shipped overseas and then a small stack sent back to us, to be sold in our shops; wholesale prices risen to ten times the combined price of labor, materials and production.

Privilege

[From chapter 6.]

My big sister, Lentisha, closes her backpack. It is close to midnight.

Three days ago we decided to run, because the alternative: to sacrifice ourselves for a greater cause, is too harsh for me and mom to accept. It has led to several fierce discussions until big sister finally gave in.

Several kilo’s of re-directed military grade food bars have been on the table until half an hour ago. Additional hardware we need to connect to the drones are now distributed over our three bodies. The intercepted military smart-suits have been a welcome bonus.

We sing softly with mom as she cries from her eyes. She kisses us on our forehead and cheeks. We might never return home again.

Then we shoulder our backpacks and leave the house.

It is April and the end of the rain season. Our names are about to emerge in the next six hours and we are not allowed to erase them. “That is the only privilege we are not willing to grant you.” It is better to disappear now.

Notes on this fragment:

“That is the only privilege we are not willing to grant you.”

According to Merriam Webster, “Privilege” is:

a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor : prerogative; especially : such a right or immunity attached specifically to a position or an office

Take a look from that perspective to this previous sentence (bold added).

 Our names are about to emerge in the next six hours and we are not allowed to erase them.

Who is granting those privileges? Why? What is their right to do so? What right do they have to play like this with people’s lives?

This reference to “privilege” is used within the story world  as a very explicit reminder that the things that make that revolution possible are not to be taken for granted. They are “given”. And the “benevolent ones” who did so repeat the same pattern of  cruelty they are fighting against in their totally random wielding of those privileges.

Even within one of the possible new systems to come there is no equality, nor is there respect for human values. Later:

I feel tired and exhausted, filled with a new rage that comes from the arrest of two friends I knew from university. They did not run.

“Privilege” makes everything suspect. The war for freedom is not a clean war at all. The result is not a brave new world where everything is perfect. It reveals another system of control, of “Us” and “Them” and the murky aspects of any war I try to address in parts like the next one:

“Did we do right?” #1

[From chapter 10.]

I have become more and more plagued by doubt. I am scared. I am scared to see the type of changes that will ripple forward, changing our future history, leading to new wars.

I have very clear doubts about the directions we chose.

Did we have that right? Are we doing it right? Were we really free in our choices or has our game be rigged as well? How are we not falling into a new trap? A new system of oppression? How do we prevent falling back into the old ones?

I question the rationale behind the concept of the privilege we were ‘given’, of not being allowed to edit the hit-lists, not being allowed to completely redirect the arrests as we had done with the supplies. Who were they to talk about ‘privileges?’ ‘Granting it?’ In how far are ‘they’ the same as the ones we fought against? Why those sacrifices?

[…]

Why did we follow this specific path into the future when other ways are available as well? Is the hate that big? Is our urge to damage so deep?

The hate, the urge to damage.

I shake my head slowly, push my hand against the wall.

It feels like things are spinning out of control.

War is a mess.

“Poverty has never been related to stupidity”

[Beginning of chapter 3.]

Four years ago you could not pay the rent anymore.

We removed everything we did not need from my house, covered one wall with cabinets. We put two beds in the living room: one in the front, one in the back. A photo of papa is on a cabinet next to mama’s bed. He died in a mining accident: a sand-slide, unnoticed until it was too late due to a lack of security measures.

I sleep upstairs.

The beds of mama and you, my big sister, are covered with a sheet in daytime.

I sit down on the edge of mama’s, still shaking from rage and sadness, holding mom’s hand. You are in the other corner, one leg pulled up, biting on the knuckle of your index finger and watch me silently from your old chair. Contemplating.

[…]

[Beginning of chapter 7.]

Poverty has never been related to stupidity.

—Costanza Cruz-Halloway, May 2028, pirate press, ‘Freedom: The first IP wars’.

There are shadows in the field of vision of the small drones that try to cover the sky and the city. There are clusters of small viral code hiding in the system, spread via updates they received over the last two years. Something is deep-hacking the eyes and the images they send, keeping us out of the feed. Deep-hacking the sensor-data it sends. Erasing ourselves from it, erasing our ID’s from the simple data streams they provide.

These shadows allow us to move through the city of Lusaka unnoticed as long as we move with them, wait for new shadows to appear when others move on, on our way to the bus stop. And I feel grateful for the careful planning, the care that others took over us, long before this very moment. And I look at your back, big sister and almost cry again for your persistence, defying all the negativity people gave you for all those years: “Why so negative? Why this hostility? You are crazy. You want trouble? There is already enough trouble. Everything will be fine. Let the government fix it.”

(I like how that one quote: “Poverty has never been related to stupidity” changes some subtle elements in the story.)

“Did we do it right?” #2

[From chapter 9.]

I step outside and walk to mama, who is looking at the waterfall, her body frozen as if she has forgotten about herself.

“Did we do the right thing?” she asks me when I am three steps from her. Then she sighs.

“It is so easy to quit. Out of fear, out of the idea that we were powerless, that this country had nothing to offer.”

“We cannot think like that,” I say, embracing her from behind.

“Sweetheart, all of my life I have been giving my power away.” She touches my cheek with the soft side of her flat hand as if I am a child again. “I never expected it would be remotely possible, never thought it would be normal people like us to liberate Zambia. I was waiting while they were killing us by the thousands and thousands and thousands: by disease, by misinformation, by keeping us poor and docile. I have been making so many apologies for people who do not deserve any apology at all.”

No longer welcome here

This fragment lost the battle of existence due to word-count, reduction, repetition and being almost-but-not-entirely-there.

[Chapter 9. Removed]

I look up and I re-read the second part of the message that is engraved in a stone plate embedded in the pillar in front of me. One of the many we sent into the world.

It is simply called: “To you, who once oppressed me.” It has no name underneath.

You think you are civilized.

You think you are powerful.

You think you have the answers.

You think you are an example for the rest of the world.

You think I cannot manage on my own.

You think I need you.

You are wrong.

.

Your culture is toxic.

Your leaders are talking puppets.

Your economic models just another system of oppression.

Your ideals are the works of sociopaths.

.

You think I still owe you for all you have done to me.

You still think you can deny and pollute my agency.

Your arrogance is beyond comprehension.

.

You have sabotaged my culture.

You continued to cripple my country.

You continued to enslave and murder my people.

I reject you.

.

Your culture is no longer relevant.

Your ‘help’ is no longer needed.

Your claims have never been valid.

Your debt to me can never be repaid.

You are no longer welcome here.

“You think I still owe you for all you have done to me” was a nice twist.

Backgrounds

The call for submissions for “We see a different frontier” boiled down to:

We See a Different Frontier will publish new speculative fiction stories in which the viewpoint is that of the colonized, not the invader. We want to see stories that remind us that neither readers nor writers are a homogeneous club of white, male, Christian, hetero, cis, monoglot anglophone, able-bodied Westerners. We want the cultures, languages and literatures of colonized peoples and recombocultural individuals to be heard, not to show the White Man learning the error of his ways, or Anglos defending the world from colonizing extraterrestrials. We want stories that neither exoticize nor culturally appropriate the non-western settings and characters in them.

Before I wrote the first draft of “Future History” I decided it was going to be an “angry story”. The colonization (and erasure) part would be about a different kind: that of global trade and the outsourcing of work to low-cost countries. Since I was working on the series of: “The Decline of Europe” it would be in that universe and at a pivotal moment I called “The IP wars”.

The “IP wars” are based on the idea that Intellectual Property (short: “IP”) is part of the new warfare. A warfare that is no longer about land, but about trade, production, sales, market domination. These wars focus on “piracy” and have several aspects to them including censorship and the diminishing of basic human rights.

While editing “Future History” in the last days I started realizing that I am repressing a lot things. I am very angry, scared and confused about the things that are happening around me. More than I assumed until then.

Rochita Loenen-Ruiz states about her story for “We see a different frontier” in a recent interview by Jocelyn Paige Kelly:

Writing that story terrified me. Sending it out terrified me. And knowing that it’s going to be read terrifies me. Why? Because it doesn’t present a pleasing or comforting aspect of colonization. There is no narrative of gratitude or peace. I found it terrifying to write because it tells the truth of what happens when a people’s innocence is violated. Being faced with the violence of my own feelings was rather terrifying and I have often wondered if I should have changed it in some way, if I should have made it milder, but then I think: but the story is meant to be that way and changing it would be a falsification and a betrayal of what art is all about.

And I understand the sentiments. When I dove into my story: “Future History”, the narrative became that of: “Fuck you”. “Fuck off” and “You murdered my people, destroyed my culture and crippled my country”. I was not terrified writing “Future History”. I was mildly angry.

And if I allow myself — instead of repressing it as I constantly do — I am actually enormously pissed off and very, very sad.

“Future History” is as much about Europe as it is about “Zambia”, the place I chose to write it in. “Future History” is about the lies that are used to repress and oppress entire populations. To keep them/us docile.

As I only use and collect clippings, and lack the deeper knowledge from deeper research, I am confused. I am incredibly pissed off but when I try to tell you why I do not get much further than: “blublublublu– let’s just say it’s immense and complicated”.

What I did

In stories like “Future History” I use article clippings. From those clippings and other more location specific readings I make collages which I then situate in imaginary “future” or “alternate” versions of “The Netherlands”, “France”, “Europe” or “Zambia” in this case.

These clippings do not show “reality” or “facts”. They just show possibilities. Angles. Possible view-points on a situation. Things that can be mis-interpret and mistaken for “reality” very easily.

From “The deadly tin inside your iPad“: (Bloomburg)

On May 29, in the bottom of a tin-mining pit on Bangka Island in Indonesia, a wall about 16 feet high collapsed, sending a wave of earth crashing down on a 40-year-old father of two. His name was Rosnan. The dirt crushed his legs, sent something sharp slicing through his right thigh, and buried him from the waist down. […]

“He kept repeating, ‘Please, please help me,’ ” recalls Rosnan’s son, Dian Chandra, 20, who rode in the back of a car with his father to a nearby hospital. Rosnan lost too much blood. “I couldn’t find a pulse,” says Dr. Mario, the emergency room physician on duty.

Why was the place not secured?

[…] the area where Rosnan was working was an illegal mine,

Understanding the scope:

Rosnan worked among thousands of Indonesians who wield pickaxes and buckets each day on Bangka Island, extracting the tin that becomes the solder that binds components in the world’s tablet computerssmartphones, and other electronics.

In the case of “Future History” I talk about revolt and the reasons to do so. Constant neglect and people dying around you due to that is one. So I need something bigger. Something like this: (From AmericaBlog)

Walmart rejected safety upgrades at Asia factory where 100 die in fire

[…]

At a meeting convened in 2011 to boost safety at Bangladesh garment factories, WalMart Stores Inc. (WMT) made a call: paying suppliers more to help them upgrade their manufacturing facilities was too costly.

To bring it closer to Zambia: (France 24)

Two Chinese mine managers accused of shooting 13 coal miners in Zambia over a labour dispute have walked free after the judge dropped all charges, reporters in Livingstone said Tuesday.

Connecting some dots. Working conditions and mining: (Human rights watch)

The 122-page report, “‘You’ll Be Fired If You Refuse’: Labor Abuses in Zambia’s Chinese State-owned Copper Mines,” details the persistent abuses in Chinese-run mines, including poor health and safety conditions, regular 12-hour and even 18-hour shifts involving arduous labor, and anti-union activities, all in violation of Zambia’s national laws or international labor standards. […] Copper mining is the lifeblood of the Zambian economy, contributing nearly 75 percent of the country’s exports and two-thirds of the central government revenue.

The emerging story for “alternate world ‘Zambia’ ” becomes a bit clearer.

Proper labor conditions are expensive. If and when you can save money on your total revenue, you will. The fact that this is about actual human beings is a secondary issue. You will never meet them anyway and what can they do? Strike? Murder some manager? Who do they have on their side? The law? The government?

“Two Chinese mine managers[…]  shooting 13 coal miners […] walked free after the judge dropped all charges“.

If you think this kind of abusive scenarios only happen “abroad”, think again: (Guardian)

Inside Amazon’s flagship factory in Rugeley, Staffordshire, a new way of working is evolving. There is a strong topnote of distrust, evinced by the full-body scanners that workers have to pass, every time they leave, to prove they haven’t stolen anything.

[…]

Meanwhile, in Tesco’s Donabate distribution centre in Dublin, workers wearing these tags are awarded percentages for their speediness (100% if they perform a task in the time estimated, 200% if they’re twice as fast, and so on), but claim they are docked if they take a loo break; afterwards, they find they have to work much faster – to get back up to their 100%.

While this seems “unrelated”, the main drive is money. “Produce more for less cost”. If and when one can get away with the violation of human rights, one will.

In the story I deliberately stay away from pointing fingers to specific parties, like: “it is the fault of the [fill in group]”. I keep it vague. Unlike my characters in the story I do and did not have weeks to research through already collected data.

How governments can protect you

Or: how the reality of law and crime is bendable and “safety” and “we live in a democracy” is relative: (Aljazeera)

The US has pursued “domestic terrorism” by practicing pre-emptive prosecution, that is, going after individuals who have committed no crime but are alleged to possess an ideology that might dispose them to commit acts of “terrorism”. Maintaining that it can -and should – be in the business of divining intent, the government decimates crucial elements of the US justice system.

Murder by neglect

Within “Future History” I relate the working conditions and the people who suffer and die due to that (due to lack of proper protection and proper working conditions) directly to murder (by neglect). Here is why: if you deliberately expose people to dangerous working conditions you are deliberately putting people in danger. Even though it is not you who pushes a person into the machine, it is your neglect that creates all the conditions leading to the accident. Especially when this is not the first time it happens.

The neglect itself is in most cases due to aforementioned economical motivations and it goes something like this: “Why would we invest in safety-precautions in a country we do not live in, for people we never met?” Apart from the possible additional justifications like: “They should be happy we outsource our [whatever] to them.”

Adding to this: (Independent Catholic News)

A Catholic Missionary Sister dedicated to HIV/Aids prevention in Africa has condemned the widely-held view that the Church’s ban on condoms is responsible for the spread of the virus. Sister Luzia Wetzel, coordinator of the Zambia’s Youth Alive HIV/Aids prevention programme, told Aid to the Church in Need that the effectiveness of condoms at preventing the spread of the virus is highly overrated.

[…]

The Sister, who has been working in Africa for 40 years, said: “Condoms are not the solution to Aids.”

She said that rather than concentrating on condoms – which she stressed do not provide 100 percent protection – other issues, such as behaviour change, are key to tackling the problem. The Youth Alive programme, which has been running in all of Zambia’s dioceses, emphasises abstinence from pre-marital sex and faithfulness in marriage.

While “other issues, such as behaviour change” are certainly relevant, it is used in this context to derail the conversation. When you add to this a broken education on sexually transmitted diseases you simply are in complete denial of reality.

The results of this denial of reality are thousands and thousands of people being mis-informed. Or to be more clear: being derailed and lied to. And through this derailing and those lies thousands of people get sick and thousands of people die.

From Unicef a little peek into reality:

As the HIV epidemic moves into the second decade of rapid spread in Zambia, it has now become a generalised and mature epidemic.
Current estimates suggest 226 new adult infections and 25 new child infections occur each day, although each of these rates is projected to decline in coming years. The total number of people living with HIV (PLHIV) continues to rise, due to both new infections and the fact that increased access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) allows a larger number of HIV-infected people to live longer. Of the PLHIV, it is estimated that in 2010 310,898 adults and 41,563 children are in need of (ART). For the year 2011, these numbers are expected to rise to 337,316 and 43,625, respectively. Seventy percent of tuberculosis patients in Zambia have HIV. Ninety percent of new infections are believed to be driven by the following factors:
• Multiple and concurrent sexual partners;
• Low and inconsistent condom use;
• Low levels of male circumcision;
• Mobility and labour migration.

For the Catholic Church the contraception issue has been for a very long time like this: (Wikipedia)

 […] in 1963-66. Contraception is defined as “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.” Contraception so defined is considered intrinsically evil.

In short: “AIDS should be solved by abstinence because condoms are evil.”

The lies and the derailing does not stop there. (Wikipedia)

[…] “senior spokesman” Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo [of the Vatican] – claimed that condoms are permeable to the aids virus. He explained to BBC interviewers that “The Aids virus is roughly 450 times smaller than the spermatozoon. The spermatozoon can easily pass through the ‘net’ that is formed by the condom.” These false claims were echoed by an archbishop of Nairobi, as well as by Catholics as far Asia and Latin America.

The total amount of people suffering from AIDS in Zambia (2009, UNICEF) is estimated around 980 000. The total population is 16 million.

On February 24: (Global Voices Online)

The Zambian government has reportedly engaged Chinese experts to install a secret internet monitoring facility in the country. In tandem with this move, President Michael Sata has given authorization to the Special Division of the Office of the President (also known as the Zambian Security Intelligence Service) to monitor the telephone and online communications of anyone living in Zambia if ordered to do so by the Attorney General.

Now read this quote from “Future History”:

“I never expected it would be remotely possible, never thought it would be normal people like us to liberate Zambia. I was waiting while they were killing us by the thousands and thousands and thousands: by disease, by misinformation, by keeping us poor and docile. I have been making so many apologies for people who do not deserve any apology at all.”

Concluding

As said, “Future History” is not about Zambia. It is about “Zambia”, an alternate world version I made up using several clippings, WikiPedia and Google Maps.

“Future History” is about the mechanics of war for profit. A war for market domination. It is about the invasion and erasure of cultures and countries by foreign brands and foreign religions. It is about cheap labor and the neglect of human rights by ignorant cultures: exporting their systems of oppression and complete disdain for human values under the flag of trade and “support”.

While we project a lot of our own ignorance on others, this ignorance  is a deep part of my Euro/American culture.

Cutting it short: Anything we assume about “Africa” and any other “3rd world country” is through a filter of our own denial. Our “1st world” culture is toxic, ignorant, abusive, meddlesome and arrogant. We are like schizophrenics pretending to be doctors of enlightened civilization. “You are ignorant and poor. Let me fix that for you. No, I INSIST!”.

“They” do not “need” us as we tend to believe “they” do. We should stay the fuck out of ANY “development country”.  If anything needs fixing in this world it is our very own Euro/American mindset and out very own and very broken Euro/American culture.

As for my own anger, my own repressed fury: I hope to reach that point where my research is more than just collecting clippings. Where my incoherent blabbering on many different topics becomes a focused dissection of what is structurally wrong with my own Dutch and Euro/American society. Where I can take on any topic in that field and write 6 000 words of narrative that leaves you shattered, confused, completely pissed off and more aware of how you and your perfect little world have been abused and broken and broken over and over again.

“Future History” is not even touching 10% of that rage. And I welcome the slow shift I seem to be going through. I am enraged. And I slowly start to understand why.

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