Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 195


Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I was going to write another ghost story, but the world’s too tired for the ghosts to get out of the grave.

Robert Mugabe died today. If I said that sentence out loud in the biggest square in Cary, maybe ten people would know who I’m talking about. In another world corner, a separate continent, Robert Mugabe is a known name and a mixed bag.

He came to power in what would become Zimbabwe. A freedom fighter, he led largely black African armies in the fight to decolonize their own country. He won. In the new Democracy, he was elected head of state. He set out education reforms. Those reforms stuck so much that just this week there are Zimbabwen immigrants getting the best tech jobs in South Africa. And, as it happens, there are frantic South Africans blaming these immigrants for their own unfair lot in life and stoning them, sometimes literally.

All things change. This is especially true for people.

Mugabe got hungry over the years. He wanted to hold onto his power and started committing abuses. He rigged elections, fed fear to his populist base. At one point, he participated in ethnic cleansing. But the great tip of the spear on which he’d impale himself was a program of reclamation – he urged black Zimbabwen farmers to take lands from the white landowners, even by force. After international outcry, condemnation, he was eventually ousted from power, but this took 40 years. By all accounts, many people died under Mugabe’s rule. Like all people, he wasn’t always good.

I get this tick when pundits talk about ‘Africa.’ They say ‘Africa’ first and then they mention the country, if they mention it at all. This isn’t equal to other reporting. No-one starts with ‘North America’ when they’re about to talk on the United States. And even more nationally populous places like Europe give their countries first order – nightly news knows how to mouth the sounds for ‘France.’

This matters – to us, Africa is always the ‘other.’ It is one gray lump of undefined boundaries. It’s the place where ‘those’ people live, the holding cells for pure dark skin, the graveyard of old desires that ran in all our white western families to hold the reigns to other humanities, to bathe ourselves in someone else’s sweat and blood.

Robert Mugabe died not a good man, but not a wholly bad man either. His deeds brought both freedom and disaster. But in the end I’m not the man to judge him. I don’t know Zimbabwe the way her sons and daughters do. So instead I sit and listen to the radio plays, the ways my people talk about him, the sounds of our assumptions, the subtle knife cutting holes in the globe and carving out Africa – something we can covet, but never warmly touch.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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How can these countries who have stolen land from the Red Indians, the Aborigines, the Eskimos dare to tell us what to do with our land?

Robert Mugabe

Coffee Log, Day 134


Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

For a long time the most foreign place in the world was the Asheboro, NC Zoo. I went there on school trips and with my parents. The trips with my parents were better; we told safari stories.

There’s lots of problems in the world and somewhere about the lower-middle of the list is humanity’s treatment of animals. Zoos are a part of that. For its measure, Asheboro does well enough. It gives more land to its animals than any other zoo in the US. It funds conservation.

It wasn’t always so good…

In the African exhibit there’s a big glass building that used to smell like monkey. These days it’s where they have tanks of fish, creeping spiders, scant birds. Back then, the center was a walled-off, indoor meshed tower fifty feet high. It had a giant concrete tree. It was home to apes and monkeys.

I remember their screaming. Excited, angry, glad, the whole gamut. The monkeys were a loud bunch. They’d swing broad and give a show – for each other, really, but we observed. The ceiling was so high and the skylight was frosted so the room was always this bright, tropical gray. That and the artificial humidity, the monkey’s screams, the stink that was so close to sweat between a man or woman’s legs, but still a little foreign, a little violent – to me, that pavilion was the most foreign place in the world.

On my daily walk around the apartments a thunderstorm takes. Blue’s gone, sweaty smooth clouds; every tree goes this-that way, the bark creaking, leaves screaming, braced for the confines of a heavy storm; I walk fast to avoid the rain.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“Catch him down bad, beat him with a bat, hashtag that (yeah).” – Young Thug, Harambe