Dualities of Life

Life is complicated.

Everyone knows that already. From all the different events that can take place for a single person on a day-to-day basis, to all the new and familiar people we interact with daily, there are so many aspects of life that makes it so complex.

The nature of it is complicated, but does our perspective on life need to be complicated as well? Should we go about our lives expecting it to be a perpetual cycle of new encounters and uncertainty? Or are we able to simplify it down into core concepts that can define life well enough to give us some form of predictability and comfort.

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To be more clear, I am specifically referring to binary oppositions. These are pairs of related things that are different in meaning. Roland Rugero in the novel, Baho!, gives us some examples like “Coming and going. Before and after. Crying and laughing. Fatigue and rest” (22). He does refer to binaries as a different name though: “dualities.”

In the book, the main character, Nyaamuragi, who has had a rough life both in the past and his present time, states that through his experiences, he has learned that life was made out of dualities. He goes on to say that everything is comparable to some version of this duality and without it, there will be unbalance and uncertainty.

I personally disagree with him though.

I believe that if you look at anything in life as black and white, life is going to throw at you the grayest possible version of that something as possible. You cannot box all the different aspects of living into a collection of dualities. It would be too simplified. I feel like people who do look at things through binaries tend to be stubborn given that will see things as only having one correct path and one wrong path.  Which then makes them immensely less prepared for the real world compared to someone who are able to accept life the way that it is, a an unpredictable mess of surprises.

You can even take it a step further and try subverting these dualities. Or in other words, try going outside the boundaries that these binaries set up for us. I believe that in doing this, you are truly able to see life in its entirety and perhaps  enjoy or appreciate life even more than before.

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Luxurious Poverty?

What comes to mind when you see the word “poverty” ? What kind of things do you associate it with? How do you even define it?

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The dictionary definition of it is “the state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions.” But does this actually describe what “poverty” means? While I do think that this definition is very agreeable, I believe that poverty is a lot more complex than this. It is not just about a monetary value or some material possessions, but I think it is closer related to a person’s capacity to meet the requirements of survival. This however can be interpreted and redefined in many ways.

The novel Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, talks about its own version and makes commentary on the nature of it. Poverty is showcased through its world building and specifically its main setting, Tram 83, along with its residents. The story takes place in a dystopian version of the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the conditions of the city-state in novel are paralleling conditions of the country post colonization. The government is not really working for all its people but rather for the needs of the few in charge. This is resulting in a very impoverished population and a constant struggle  for survival throughout the city-state. One of the most prominent display of this is evident through the numerous prostitutes in the novel.

Generally  speaking and reserving judgement, people do not willingly choose to become prostitutes. It is often as a result of poverty. It is often because they have no other means of survival. The book showcases this really well by having the prostitutes or “baby-chicks” in the novel ask for tips constantly. Mujla adds more depth to this though. The main character Lucian, once stated about the baby-chicks that,  “They vitriolically demand their rights and obligations, these girls, but beyond their wrath, you feel they don’t care about the future, that they live a life of luxury…” (169).

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He goes on to explain how interesting it is that they are able to wear branded clothing, go drinking, singing, wearing breast implants and overall just seemingly have an entertaining time despite all their complaints about their current condition and issues.

This passage brings us back to how do we define poverty? Is there a certain point or threshold where people are not considered poor anymore? Is it hypocritical of people to call themselves impoverished but are actually able to live luxuriously. Does having a  profession that is associated with poverty (like prostitution) place you in the impoverish group regardless of how much that job may make you?

The context of the situation can really matter but for the baby-chicks, I believe that they are very much still in poverty regardless of the points that Lucien made. The specific reasonings that Lucien mentioned were not that strong because most of them were just a consequent of the profession. Activities like partying and working on your looks are part of occupation. It is also not like they are doing it purely for fun. It is to make more money.

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“Does a more dressed-up poverty exist, or is poverty a supreme joy in disguise” (169)?

I believe that Lucien is being too cynical. Poverty is complex enough to allow a luxurious side to it.

Makina, the Epitome of Determination

You do not get to choose the circumstances of your birth, but you are in control of how you want to live your life and what kind of person you are. This all relies on your mentality and determination . Strong perseverance and focus can really take you far in life.

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In the novel Signs Preceding the End of the World, Yuri Herrera tells the story of a woman named Makina who is making an expedition from Mexico into the United States in search of her brother. The excursion however is being done illegally through smuggling and naturally is filled with plenty of dangers. Makina is ready though. Even though she has to deal with all the shady people and activities involved with smuggling along with the overhanging threat of border policemen, Makina is determined she will succeed.

She is very strong willed and independent individual. Makina is someone who is extremely dependable and you know that she will always do her best to keep her word. She is the kind of person you go to when you need help and can expect a solution from her. For Makina’s case, this was her whole life.

There is a part in the story where Makina and a companion ran into trouble with border patrol and the companion told her to escape without him, but because of her previous experiences with people, she thought he was asking for help and went towards him. She was then shot at and grazed by a bullet.

 “Makina wasn’t used to having people say Run away.” (49)

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Makina’s overpowering sense of independence and determination are her most powerful assets. Despite all the inherent dangers and risks of crossing the border, she packed very sparingly for it. The only survival oriented items she brought were a flashlight and few provisions. Instead she packed lipstick, clean panties, and a blouse for partying among other things. Makino is very confident and knows exactly what she wants to do.

“She was coming right back, that’s why that was all she took.” (52).

Who Cares

There is a growing epidemic happening right now. One that is not restricted to a single country’s borders but rather it is a global phenomenon that is directly affecting people of all demographics. No matter what age, race, or social status you are in, traces of it can be seen throughout every group in society.  Perhaps the worst thing about it is that it is extremely silent, literally. I am talking about apathy.

The textbook definition of apathy is an “absence or suppression of passion, emotion , or excitement.” Basically it means being indifferent about something.

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This can take shape in many different forms. It can just be not having your own option on a topic or even not feeling the need to do something. These simple explanations of apathy are very harmless sounding and you might say that it is not worth addressing as an issue. But when you look at the the role it plays in a larger setting like politics or even life itself, it becomes more apparent that it can be extremely harmful.

Apathy can the be reason why one person is elected the President of the United StateImage result for apathys over another. It can be the reason why in a world where millions of people are severely malnourished or impoverished, there is little collective effort being made to help remedy it. Apathy can even be the reason why someone decides to stop trying and just end their life the next chance they get.

Ahmed Khaled Towfik depicts a scenario of a future in his book, Utopia where apathy has grown rampant. The government has essentially crumbled and society has been divided so much that there only exists two social classes now, the exceedingly wealthy and the awfully poor, with nothing in the middle.

The majority of inhabitants of both sides are remorseless and unsympathetic about the lives of others and their own lives as well. Morality is a long forgotten concept in this society where rape is normalized and hunting other humans is considered to be a gratifying way of getting rid of boredom. This is apathy taken to the extremes.

Halfway through the novel after having showcased just how unnerving his world and its people are, Towfik reaches backwards in time to try and illustrate how it became such a place. He says there were “terrifying indicators” that  “everyone should have take notice of,” but in the end didn’t do anything (109). He makes a metaphor about how these apathetic people were like smelling smoke and because they didn’t tell anyone about it, it ends up lighting a fire.ThisIsFine.png

The novel takes place in 2023 which is only 6 years from right now. Are we going to ignore the smoke just like the Utopians did? Are we going to let a fire ignite and consume us? Or are we as a society going to finally take the steps needed to acknowledge the stench of inequality and injustice and try to fix it.

Don’t be apathetic, fight for what’s right.