Maybe our narrator, Allah, and all of the other Utopians in Ahmed Towfik’s Utopia should give a listen to Tupac. He said it best: “I wonder why we take from our women/ Why we rape our women — do we hate our women? / I think it’s time to kill for our women/ Time to heal our women, be real to our women.” However, this might be too much to ask for from men that come from a society that don’t value women whatsoever.
Allah uses women for sex and goes as far to say he “no longer [knows] if the girl is a turn-on or not since they all look alike down to the last detail” (9). He uses sex to demonstrate his power, as he rapes women (like Safiya, Gaber’s sister) and even thinks these women should feel honored that a “man” like him has any interest in women that are “nothing” (131). He believes he’s a gift to women, when in reality he’s every woman’s nightmare.
The sad thing about this fictional character living in a fictional world is that this sort of rape culture can be found in our very own reality. Every day women are raped by men for a variety reasons, or for just no reason at all as well. If it’s not the physical act of rape, it’s joking about rape. Songs about rape. Songs about disrespecting women. Rape culture is talked about so wildly now that it’s crazy to even think about how bad it actually is.
This is the world we live in today—a world that doesn’t respect women; that jokes about hurting women. A world where women are told that what they’re wearing and how drunk they are justifiable reasons as to why they deserved to be raped.
With men like Allah wandering around in the every day world, it’s hard to have faith that one day this sort of rape culture will cease to exist. We’re all fed up, but the only thing we can do is keep our head up.
In Tram 83, Fiston Mwanza Mujila creates a world in the DRC that is filled with a tremendous amount of corruption. From a dissident General to failing post-decolonization, this City-State is not the place to be; however, Tram 83 is.
Tram 83, a destination in the City-State that not only offers a good time by creating memories, but offers a lot of girls as well. “Tram 83 was one of the most popular restaurants and hooker bars, its renown stretching beyond the City-States borders” (7). The club provides a night life to a city that although is physically there, no longer exists. It may not seem like it, but Tram 83 is the one place that seems a bit hopeful and least disappointing.
If you’re wondering, yes, prostitutes even exist in fictional novels and in this case, many of them not only frequent Tram 83, but the City-State in general. Throughout the course of the novel, the baby-chicks ask “do you have the time?” (9). The question itself is ambiguous. Have the time for what? I’ve thought about a couple of different ways this one simple question can be interpreted.
Do you have the time:
- For sex? Because sex is something that is brought up in Tram through belly politics, but it also something that is used against the tourists. Sex is part of the corruption.
- Like the actual time?
And with a better understanding of the novel as we reached the end,
- Do you have the time to help me? The time to change things?
To say it lightly, the City-State is fucked. With the amount of corruption going on, there seems to be no hope for anyone. As previously mentioned, sex is part of the corruption in the City-State. With Requiem playing dirty and using the baby-chicks for his own benefit, it’s hard to believe that there aren’t girls who disagree with everything they’re doing. Maybe Requiem is forcing them to sell their bodies as blackmail? Maybe this is part of the geography of hunger in the City-State, where you gotta do what you gotta do in order to survive. Sex sells and that money can be used to put food in the belly.
Maybe I’m just overthinking this simple question and it really just shows how determined the baby-chicks are at their job. Maybe they really are just asking if they have the time for a quick fuck, but then again, do you have the time to see how these girls are forced to sell their bodies in order to make a day-to-day living and have to comply with a crooked man that seems to have more power than the City-State government itself?
Well unlike Meg, Makina is not in distress.
In most novels about quests, we’re found in the usual predicament where a man goes on a journey and proves his strength and perseverance throughout the entire course of the novel. Don’t get me wrong: I love reading about a good journey. However, Yuri Herrera goes against the odds and introduces us to Makina, a young Latina that doesn’t follow the stereotypical Latina, in his novel Signs Preceding the End of the World. Not only is Makina a nonsubmissive Latina, but she’s also a badass female protagonist.
So what makes her so cool?
If you’re unfamiliar with Mexican culture, the women are usually extremely submissive to their men and typically aren’t perceived as the strong ones. While Makina still has an aura of femininity to her, she defies the “typical” Latina most writers would depict her as. Not only does she have a strong personality, but she doesn’t take any disrespect from anyone and I love it. Maybe she listened to Queen Latifah’s U.N.I.T.Y. and had the lyrics “I bring wrath to those who disrespect me like a dame” resonate with her because when a guy on the bus tries to make a move and run his hand up her leg, she yanks his finger back and says “I don’t like being pawed by fucking strangers, if you can believe it” (31). Like, let’s be real. This alone not only assured 1) my love for Makina (because I love seeing women not take any shit from random men), but 2) also made me want to be her.
It’s not often where we read about women like Makina. Sure, we have Katniss from The Hunger Games who is badass because of everything she deals with in the games, but there’s something special about Makina. Maybe it’s because she’s a woman that crosses international borders and has the respect from her entire town to fulfill not only this mission, but generally just any task in town? Or the fact that she still perceives herself as a sexual human being and doesn’t hide those desires? There is no shame coming from her and instead exudes confidence.
If there were more Makina’s in the world of literature, I’m sure the world would be a better place.
“Homicides illegal and death is the penalty. What justifies the homicide when he dies in his own iniquity?”
Masta Killa of the great Wu-Tang Clan said it best. While author Ahmed Khaled Towfik doesn’t bring up any sense of law in Utopia, we are introduced to two characters that view death differently. Our first unnamed, nihilistic Narrator searches for death. He seeks the high that comes along with thrill and seems a bit like an adrenaline junkie due to his boredom. His people go out into The Others, a foreign, poverty-stricken land, and bring the lifeless bodies they kill back as a trophy. Gaber, our second narrator, counts down to his death and is on the opposite end of the economic spectrum, where he doesn’t want to die or kill anyone. So, what’s the deal?
To our first Narrator, death is nothing but a game. Him and his people go “hunting” (10) for fun because in “Utopia…death retreats behind barbed wires and becomes nothing but a game that adolescents dream of…” (6). It’s all for fun because they have nothing better to do. They are so bored with their lives that they figure ‘why not just end someone else’s?’ They don’t suffer from any consequences, so that’s even more of a reason to just go hunt and kill. But, they do this in the Others land. They enter the land, kill someone, and bring the body back to their home to show off as a trophy. Gaber, the more compassionate of the two, doesn’t want to die. He does what he needs to do in order to survive, because unlike our other Narrator, he has something to live for and wants more out of life.
It’s easy to see Utopia and the Others in our own society. Here in America, our Utopia are the celebrities, the 1%, those that have some form of privilege and power to do what they want to whoever they want and not deal with the repercussions of their actions. Our Others is everyone else- lower class, middle class, homeless, those who get killed just for walking down the street, minding their own business.
Who gets to say it’s cool to come into someone else’s neighborhood and kill them? Who decides that one’s life is worth more than another’s?
How much more of this “game” do we have to play until we’re all dead?