Terraforming our western spaces by Ayiba-Tare Raine
“Terraforming or terraformation (literally, “Earth-shaping”) is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of a planet, moon, or other body to be similar to the environment of Earth to make it habitable by Earth-like life.” – Wikipedia
This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the God of Israel, says to all the captives he has exiled to Babylon from Jerusalem: “Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens, and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”
-Jeremiah the Prophet
Starting Out… where is home?
For many leaving their native land and going abroad to seek for greener pastures may not look like exile, but the truth is most people that left the shores of their country left for economic reasons and as such are economic exiles in the countries they find themselves. These countries may be on the continent of Africa (very few) or outside the shores of the continent. Most migrant’s leave for European style countries like the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Holland, the Ukraine, Canada, Australia and the ultimate for most migrants is the United states of America. Most of these countries either have colonised swathes of real estate on the African continent in the past or used their imperialistic powers to determine what Africans think and feel about them (the west/Europeans) and about their homelands. Many migrants when leaving their country never leave there with the intent of never coming back. A lot have the hope that someday they will return, usually when things get better, but as time goes by they become disillusioned with the negative news that always flows forth from the already biased western press and news of woe from their relatives and friends on the ground.
Slowly with time home becomes a thing of distant nostalgic memories, blurry images of rustic homes in modern suburbs with dilapidated roads, or where the roads that bad you begin to wonder? Fading images of skyscrapers in the city beside shantytowns where one could buy fresh cooked corn with coconut slices for less than a dollar. These nostalgic images clash with the harsh reality of fresh images and information from the news and people on the front.
Dilemma of Disorders – Culture shock and clashes
I have come to the conclusion that the African suffers from a split personality or what is now referred to as dissociative identity disorder; a situation where a person lives with two or more distinctive personalities where the thoughts and actions of each personality can be very different. Psychologists say that this condition is usually brought on by trauma, a trauma in our case of a colonial mindset and training struggling with an ethnic upbringing.
We live with it constantly balancing two different realities in our mind. We believe that the Europeans ways and lifestyle is better than ours, even believing that their language and ways of worship are better than ours. Yet we are African, raised within the continent and taught by our society to maintain the mores and cultures passed on through generations. The school and governing system is European but the societal system is African creating cognitive dissonance in our cultural space. Any child exposed to this grows up to become an adult that either despises his culture openly or secretly and loves the European culture or he/she struggles with his core identity for the rest of his life.
Living outside the continent in European and western-style cultures is when the reality of their psychosocial dilemma hits most migrants.
“Despite the fact that I have been trained in the western ways for over sixteen years within the western educational system albeit in Africa I do not fit in within the European culture because I am seen as African.”
That’s why you always get the question in many climes “oh my your English/French is really good. How long have you been here?” This question belies a deeper one where the questioner is really asking or saying; “you must be really intelligent to have mastered the English language in such a short time” as if an understanding of the English language is a test of intelligence.
Many fall victim to depression when in their minds they cannot fathom the rejection they have received from a system they were trained in from infancy and a belief that their ways (European) were better. For many, to return home is a no-no. the situation back home has not improved, the people back home feel you live on the next level to the heavenly realms where God is, they expect you to be richer than Richie Rich and so be able to meet all their needs and wants, and you as a person cannot fathom how you would fit back in that society. So within, they despise the system, they despise themselves for believing in that system and so lash out, usually in the reverse, not against the system but against their own kind who come into the system. Thus creating a vicious cycle as these victims usually will react in the same vein and do the same to the next migrant they meet. This is one of the reasons why it seems that communities from the African continent never seem to have a cohesive effect within their diasporan habiliments. They are too divided by the pain each person feels from a western system that fails to understand and recognise them (albeit it was not created for them in the first place) and the violence they have suffered from their own brother and sisters.
Migrating with culture
In quoting the scripture in Jeremiah 29 I am in no way trying to push a Christian worldview on this debate. In recent times there has been a resurgence of faith in African spirituality. There is even a school of thought and teaching backed strongly by the Ethiopian churches history and antecedent as the oldest surviving church lineage that all the players in the bible were black Africans. That being said the reason for the quote is based on the concept of migrants terraforming their western environment.
A migrant is anyone who leaves his home place in search of work or better living conditions, as such you can be an internal migrant (within a specified geographical space) or an international migrant, one who crosses international boundaries. As humans we all are migrants within the earth space.
Usually, when a person arrives at his new station of the settlement he seeks out people of his culture or ethnicity. Many settled folk within the western culture always wonder why people do this. Its natural for us all to seek out the comforts of a familiar face or a familiar smell. It’s like someone who loves coffee stranded in the tea-drinking hills of rural china and suddenly the strong bitter aroma of coffee wafts through the air. He/she would immediately seek out the source of that lovely smell. Tis the same with why any African migrant from West Africa would start suffering withdrawal symptoms three weeks into his stay in any European-styled culture just because he misses the taste of chilli in his food. He would seek out any source of chili and once that hot taste hits his lips his soul would come alive even if just for a few minutes.
Every migrant carries within him his home culture. Culture is defined as the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. In transferring ourselves from our ancestral places of lineage to this “new” western space we inadvertently carry within us the gene of our uniqueness, our culture. In some instances, certain norms and practices within our culture may not be allowed within this new space but most would be accepted.
Since we have knowledge that our homes may not be a returnable option in the future, have we faced the dire truth that we all may die here?
This truth faced and questioned objectively would then get us to the next question. How do we want to live here in this western space?
Living within the western space has made us realise the value of our culture. The importance of simple things like respect and care for elders, maintaining a strong family bond, the uniqueness of our spirituality and its deep importance to our daily life, our love for children and the belief that our progeny is an extension of us and those that came before us. These values are values that we need to pass on and are best passed on in a family and communal setting.
Terraforming through African culture
Build homes and plan to stay; plant vineyards, for you will be their many years. Marry and have children, and then find mates for them and have many grandchildren. Multiply! Don’t dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of Babylon. Pray for her, for if Babylon has peace, so will you.
It is time for us to begin to band together as Africans, to begin to build together. We, the first generation of migrants may want to go back home to Africa, and some will, but our children and most of our first migrant generation will not. Many will die here. It is a truth we must face. A wise man once said, the wise spend their time thinking about death. I believe this is because it makes you think about the future after your death and makes you plan for that future, that future is our children.
To Terra-form means to deliberately modify the atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology of a planet, moon, or other body to be similar to the environment of Earth (Africa) to make it habitable (for us) by Earth (African)-like life.
We need to put away our post-traumatic pain realised from the shock and indifference of western culture as well as put away the internal discord and dissonance we have as Africans. This discord is a fall out of colonisation and its imperialistic thought that they were better than us. No one is better than anyone. Our cultures carry the gene for our success even here in the west. We need to begin like the prophet says in the above statement, to build.
Build houses, but not just houses but companies, an amalgamation of ideas that would create businesses that serve not just our immediate community but the people of all cultures within our host community. We must begin to use these businesses to show forth our cultural philosophy that of Ubuntu, where everyone in the community matters.
We must allow our children to thrive, they are the future; Train them in your culture so that it doesn’t die with you. The may never go home but they will forever be Africans, they need to know why they are Africans and what makes them different and unique so that they can then thrive and shine forth in the future long after we have gone.
Multiply, and not just mindless multiplication. Multiply on purpose and with purpose. As we do that our communities will thrive and grow.
Pray for the peace of the city you are in. Don’t just pray for it; get involved. Join the council, join the police, the army, defend the community add value and as we add value we will be valued.
It will take time for us all to mind-meld and understand each other. It will take time effort and sacrifice for us to train and teach our children about who we are, teaching our language and encourage them to follow through. But trust me it will work. If we do this we will terra-form our environment and create a home that’s away from home and with time our real homes will become what we dream of, but meanwhile, we need to terra-form our western spaces.
Tare is a creative artiste who resides in Adelaide South Australia