If there is one thing that I have learned during this course it is the danger of barriers. Whether it is the self imposed barrier of social class, the barrier of a strict border, or even the barrier between different languages people being cut off from their fellows very often can lead to problems. Most recently, the book Baho showed what can happen when someone is completely unable to communicate with a large group of angry suspicious people. Specifically, a young man was accused of rape after he ended up in an incredibly awkward situation with a local woman. The main issue was that the young man is mute and thus completely unable to explain himself, leaving the angry townsfolk to stew in anger as they tried to decide the best way to kill and humiliate the mute. The anger felt by the populace was in some ways justified, as there were a number of actual rapes that had occurred in and around the small African town. Unfortunately, their anger was horrifically misplaced, and the end result was a great deal of suffering for the mute. Sadly, suffering of this nature can not be easily prevented. After all, how was the muted man supposed to communicate? It’s not as if the average person understands sign language, let alone people living impoverished lives in a small African country.
In the end, there is no easy answer to this issue. Short of a global language, there will always be miscommunications and misunderstandings due to language barriers. For people who cannot talk at all, there will likely never be a proper solution, and we can only hope that situations like the one in Baho are extraordinarily rare and unusual.
As a brief aside, I apologize that this blog post is a day late. This travesty:
is the culprit, along with the power outage that came with it. Wildfires threatening to burn down your home (but not reaching it, thankfully) is a problem that can’t be solved with a world language.
The story of Tram 83 is a story all too familiar to anyone who pays attention to modern history. Tram 83’s City State is a small African nation rich in mineral wealth and poor in human rights, ruled by a tin-pot dictator lacking in both decency and self esteem. The Dissident General is a parody of brutal dictators from across the 20th century, a discount Mobutu Sese Seko unable to get his rocks off unless he finds some new way to torture his constituents for the evening.
The Dissident General of Tram 83 is almost certainly based upon the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s own dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu was well known for his corruption and human rights violations throughout his rule, and he almost certainly would have been a significant figure of in the life of Congolese born author Fiston Mwanza Mujila.
Although Mobutu was not deposed after a writer revealed the minuscule size of his member, there are many other unfortunate distinctions that both the Dissident General and Mobutu share. One of the main sources of Mobutu’s power was the natural resources of his country. The DRC was well known for its rich copper mines which allowed Mobutu a relatively quick and easy way to increase his country’s wealth. Similarly, the main feature of the General’s city state is its rich mines overflowing with valuable metals of all kinds. The two dictators share a hobby of torturing and killing reporters and authors, and finally both the fictional and the real life countries are afflicted with internal rebellion and crime.
The story of Tram 83 is an unfortunate parody of the horrors that afflict countries in all corners of the globe. When a colonized territory is tossed aside by its imperial oppressors there will be men like the Dissident General and Mobutu ready to take control of a country regrettably unable to defend itself from dictatorship. The day when dictatorships like these no longer exist may never arrive, but it is a day that all people should strive towards.
Yuri Herrera’s novel “Signs Preceding the End of the World” tells the story of a young woman named Makina. In Yuri’s tale, Makina lives her everyday life in a small mexican town ravaged by a long forgotten silver mining industry. Makina is sent to deliver two messages to the United States, one for her brother and one for a member of a Mexican gang.
Herrera’s novel is in many ways an archetypal Hero’s Journey as it follows Makina on her trip across the Mexican border. For Makina, her “everyday world” is represented by her small mining town, where she is forced to contend against piggish men and the very earth itself as the town is torn apart by sinkholes. Where other literary heroes receive their call to adventure from a wise old master, Makina has to make due with a fat sweaty old man. Signs Preceding the End shows the grim realities for many people who wish to make their way into the US, as Makina is forced to navigate dangerous river crossings and hostile ‘anglos’ that impede her path. Eventually, Makina manages to reach the United States, which she refers to as “the abyss” on at least one occasion. Where many people see a free (if not always forward thinking) home, Makina sees a dark mysterious place full of people angry that she would even dare to cross into their territory.
Although it is not yet clear whether Makina will be enriched by her journey into the unknown, her story clearly lays out the grievous problems with America’s attitude towards immigration. After Makina finally finds her brother and leaves him with his new life, it is clear that she is headed for much more strife as she makes her way back to her everyday world. For her sake, one can only hope that her story doesn’t end up a tragedy in the end.
The story Utopia by Ahmed Khaled Towfik tells a story of an Egypt wracked by social unrest and class divide. In Towfik’s futuristic version of Egypt, there are only two classes. There are the people who live in Utopia, and the Others who live outside. The two classes lead lives that are opposites in nearly every way, and is best exemplified by the two Narrators that the story follows. The first is a Utopian, a young man who throughout life has never wanted for any physical need. The second is a young man living outside of Utopia who needs to struggle each day simply to survive.
In Ahmed’s tale, the Utopian Narrator simply does not seem to know the concept of challenge or adversity. If the Utopian Narrator want’s something to eat or drink, he gets it with no questions asked. If he wants to laze away every day watching violent movies, he can. If he wants to force himself upon his African maid, she can’t stop him. As opposed to other works of science fiction that depict utopian societies, Utopia seems to portray its abundance in a very negative light. According to Ahmed Khaled Towfik, giving a society everything it could ever desire for no work doesn’t create a culture of explorers, scientists, and artists; instead it creates a society comprised almost exclusively of psychopaths and spoiled brats so far removed from reality that they don’t even consider the people outside of their paradise human.
In stark contrast to the Utopian Narrator, the Other Narrator knows nothing but challenge and adversity. If the Other Narrator wants something to eat or drink, he has to hunt down a dog and drink the filth from a puddle. If he wants to spend the day relaxing and entertaining himself, then that’s another step towards death by starvation. If he wants to avoid being raped or mugged then he’s completely out of luck, because things of that nature are an everyday occurrence for the Others. According to Towfik, in a similar way that eternal pampering creates a society of psychopaths, being denied basic needs and being forced to fight to simply survive turns people into animals concerned only with self preservation. The Others are so deprived of luxury that a full on brawl breaks out among a group of Others over a minuscule bottle of drugs.
The dark society displayed within Utopia shows humanity at its very worst, and is an excellent representation of Towfik’s ideas about effort and reward. The book is truly a fascinating, if disturbing look into modern society and I would heartily recommend it as a book on the same level as 1984 or Brave New World.