Lines in the sand

I’ve often wondered, were there a god in the sky looking down on the planet, what she/he might think of our borders. Invisible lines and impenetrateable walls with electric shocks and armed guards keeping people out, or moreover, in.

This question has never been more present for me than today as we visited the DRC/Rwanda border at Goma.

Rwanda’s newly constructed two-story buildings, their pristine hills and well-built roads, juxtapose the trash heaps which people sort through for materials, forming the DRC border just beyond the piles of metal for makeshift homes. The road bustles with Congolese coming into Rwanda for better trade.

And I wonder, would a birdseye view of these arbitrary borders provide insight into how this peculiar race excuses the drawing of such lines- determining not just citizenship but access, value, safety, choice?

From my vantage point, it is incomprehensible.

Actually, it is devastating. Heartbreaking. Sickening.

Their only redeeming factor is that they reveal the absurdity of the stories we tell. Or so I would think, as I stare through the border-crossing and into the face of inequity.

Oh, the lines we draw.

Congolese. Rwandan.

Developing World. The West.

Poor. Rich.

Black. White.

Anyone who has traveled in Sub-Sahara Africa is familiar with the phrase, “mzungu! mzungu!” The word literally translates to White person, but is often applied to any foreigner, or anyone who does not speak the native tongue.

We hear it often as children chase our car down the road or see us walking by them. In more touristy places, this is followed with “give me money” in broken English with an outstretched hand.

Lines drawn. Script enacted. Breathing into being the stories we tell, as they become what we know- who we are.

I cringe every time this title is bestowed upon me, for the excitement with which it is sung causes discomfort.

And I wonder how our students of color feel when they are lumped into this category?

In our villages, scholars have taken to correcting the children, “oya mzungu, inchuti (no White person, friend)”. Though I like the sentiment, I am equally as uncomfortable coming in and dictating what “they” call “us”.

You see, these lines carry our histories on their backs. A history of slavery, colonialism, development-aid. A history of conquering, pillaging, raping, eradicating.

And with the remains- the surviving few (can you call it lucky to have lived through hell only to endure the sustained scorch of White supremacy?)-relegated as less-than. Cultures destroyed, the identities left for taking are those ascribed.

Lines drawn on a map with no regard for geography or tribe, maintained first by force, then necessity, and finally through a collective memory that sees Africa as a unified place teaming with poor dark savages desperately in need of saving.

Perched atop a cloud high above, would this break a heart as it is threatening to mine? Would it enrage a spirit, lighting a fire that burns for justice? Through the haze of fog, could you see the lies in the narratives we’ve so elaborately spun?

Or, perhaps, the problem with this god is that it is too far away to care.