The Culture Shock of War and Peace


As waves steeped in the history of riverbeds break gently against the shoreline so does the memory of war. Flummoxed soldiers march on towards near death experiences. Far away from home. Left in a state of bewilderedness. Bereft and even going mad sometimes.

There is more than an English translation of the fragments of human bodies in war. There are translations in millions of languages.
In the dead of night when the world is fast asleep child soldiers shake in their boots to keep their chins up and their bodies upright. Every line of their fingerprints is marked by rations, imprints of their memories of home and the killing of time.
Watching the news daily, I finally knew what hot, happening war zones, orphans, living in this heat, this sweltering climate and poverty meant and its burden on those who suffer the most. Reconciliation. Closure. The final passage. The point of no return. The companions of poets are strange for they are always estranged. They are the voices of ghosts from the past, present and future. For the poet to think out of the box there must be illumination and illusion.

France, Spain, Portugal, England and America have colonized Africa with the result that there was gross exploitation of the people who were in this process. They were deprived of education, their sole dignity, integrity. At heart their morale and decency.
The point is that I am writing from the point of view as a woman, as a writer, as a poet and as an African. I am writing as a representative of Africa. Some of you might ask what my gender has to do with it. However, for years, even now women have been second-class citizens in Africa. They have been denied human rights and a voice to speak out against the brutal injustices and abuses that have fallen against them. Africa has been drained dry by the exploitation and the violation of its natural reserves of gold and diamonds and all its mineral resources. This affected the standard of education and the level of literacy on the continent for generations.
For this reason, there has been a scourge of promising writers and poets coming out of Africa. This has been particularly so in my own country South Africa which only twenty years ago gained its independence and threw off the yolk of Apartheid, with it the Group Areas Act, the humiliating forced removals which meant that people were smothered into tiny two-roomed homes with their families which made it difficult to raise their children to be upstanding, law-abiding citizens.

Although many changes have to be made the change after hundreds of years of oppression, discrimination and prejudice has brought about a novel, unique, relevant and compelling freedom which brought to light the injustices of the past governments’ patriarchal system.
Many South African writers whose literary ‘voice’ and ability was stifled now can write freely without any censorship, detention, torture or banning orders about the different cultures, languages, faiths, mores and the racial boundaries that existed before.
No more will the words ‘kinky’, ‘nappy’ hair, ‘kroeskop duchess’, ‘Bushy’ be used as expletives; as curses. No longer will they be known as vile. Mocking the pedigree or breed of a person.
As a South African writer, I write from the point of view of a black South African whose parents experienced and grew up in the struggle. Who for half of their life experience battled through to obtain a suitable level of education? They grew up in difficult, turbulent, trying times. They were deprived of an adequate education and thus could only qualify to do menial jobs or become nurses or teachers.
My grandmother worked as a domestic servant for a white family and my paternal grandfather worked as a barman at an elite country club for White golfers and their posh wives and bratty, spoilt children. She was treated in a demeaning fashion and nothing more as a servant or a nanny. However, my parents were prepared to see their children get the best possible education under the circumstances, which seemed like the bane of our existence.

I grew up surrounded by books. A love of reading instilled in me by both of my parents who became teachers. The attitudes that the Whites had against Blacks were abhorrent. They were of another breed of people. They looked down on the lower classes and saw them as either being a sad, pathetic species that they had an obligation towards, or they remained aloof, indifferent towards or whom at best they tolerated with disdain.
Now is the time for African writers to write with a passion, in overdrive, to write what they like with their own personal signature style and to not be afraid of breaking the mold, breaking new ground with humility, with the milk of human kindness and tenderness that was so lacking in their White contemporaries who could only show hate, self-hate, a deep lack of self-respect, treachery and wickedness. The ones who upheld that unholy law of the division of all the races in South Africa.
Yet it is still not so different – other countries on the continent are not as free or do not experience freedom in the sense or the way we do in South Africa. In other African nations on this beautiful, diverse, vibrant, cosmopolitan continent filled with communities that are filled with joy, life, love, colour and laughter, despite their devastating poverty stricken, marginalized and disadvantaged status quos, they are trapped in white hot war zones or the trembling precipice of peaceful reforms and democratic elections and the election of the first female president ever of an African country.

Their voices are quelled. Their histories are quelled as is their individual pain, the innocence of their children, their sorrow and suffering for all the world to see in shared light but it is invisible in the darkness of their sadness, helplessness and their hopelessness for the situations that they find themselves in.
Sufi poet Amir Khusrau said, ‘People think they are alive because they have soul in them, but I am alive because I have love in myself.’ I want the children on the African continent, globally and from different nationalities to realize that expression of their inimitable talent or gift, that expression of their creativity, that is gold and that all people are born equal second to none.

A writer scrapes the walking wounded, the sunlight, and the pain of a songbird off her knee, pulls faith over her head and calls it a sweater. Mistakes feel like sequins. The alphabet too. The merits of crossing the water in a swimming pool feel like lightning, a bridge, and poetry. We come to the culture shock of war and peace. We call it heritage. In South Africa, we call it indigenous knowledge systems. Our poets call it shamanic wisdom. In every location there is a flash of God.

Abigail George
Abigail George
Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.


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