I’ve just sped read through an email thread that discussed about the internet shutdown in Anglophone Cameroon and I should have something to say. And I do.
But I’m not sure where to start. The fact that deliberate governmental disruption of internet access went from 15 in 2015 to 56 in 2016* is a worrying trend. The fact that Malaysia is listed there as a country is putting question marks in me in terms of what they mean by disruption of internet access and how those numbers came about. The fact that we are becoming increasingly reliant on this access to speak our minds, do our politics, live our loves that it leaves us precariously unprepared when it suddenly disappears. The fact that most of us don’t think about this at all, or that we imagine we can outsmart it by what tools we have or the kinds of content networks we follow. And the fact that most of us actually just don’t even have access to begin with (close to 60% of the world’s population), and that this is a weird conversation to have.
But what troubled me the most was trying to understand the complexity of a context – with its own thread of contestation in time – that was narrated as French vs English. The invisible line drawn between this coloniser or that, and the peoples they have stained through their exploration, occupation and imagination of borders from so many chapters ago. That have lived on, adapted, become coated on our tongues, embedded in our skins, and that have now given birth to its own new invisible lines and its own new kinds of decimating violence. And my head hurts. And my heart is raging.
I have a favourite shisha mamak place. With trees and tables under the shade of big old trees. And when the moon dips like an illustrated page across the sky, it is usually quiet. The abang polis will come for their late night teh tarik. The breeze airs out the heavy branches and their small leaves. Cats hang out by the chairs, sometimes with their kittens, sometimes crouched down in full-on prey mode to catch the ever present rats in this city.
S, who prepares the most excellent shishas that are smooth with the perfect ratio of differently flavoured molasses and coal, is from Bangladesh. He is young, in his early 20s. And one day, a few months ago, we got chatting. He told me about his family in Dhaka. How his father is too old to do the fine work of goldsmithing in his small shop. The cost of rental then, and the cost of rental now for a small room upstairs a shop lot in PJ. Exactly how much money he makes each month with his multiple jobs. How much is sent back. How the agency cheated them of 1/3rd the amount it costs to process a migrant working visa. And how they are still paying back the bank for this. And his quiet and protective love of his sister. And how the people who ran the mamak got him a cake just a few days before then to celebrate his birthday after they closed up the place.
Today we chatted again briefly. And his Malay has gotten so much better. He has another job that he has taken on in the morning. But he is a hard worker. So the work has become a little lighter than purely reliant on muscles. There seemed to be more members of his family now with him.
The story of migration. The story of wanting something better. The story of kin.
It’s a familiar story. We all probably have a thread of them somewhere. In this country, the ones that have more access to resources probably all do. And then we pretend we don’t because we want to hang on to more of this, without being questioned, and make up a myth of birth-right because some language, some ways of moving our bodies and the spaces between them, some narratives, have had more time to stain our stories and our skin. And we do this thing of drawing invisible lines. Just like the people who have drew lines around us.
The trouble with colonisation is, we are all complicit, and culpable.
*I apologise for the shouty campaign interface, but it’s a campaign, so sebegitulah