Ryszard Kapuscinski, 1932-2007.
There could be something here about his book on Iran, Shah of Shahs, something instructing us still about human folly with deadly consequences. But rightfully, some fragments from the title more apt, Another Day of Life, his chronicle of Angola's 1975 descent into war:
As a sick person suddenly revives and recovers his strength for a moment in the midst of his agony, so, at the end of September, life in Luanda took on a certain vigor and tempo. The sidewalks were crowded and traffic jams clogged the streets. People ran around nervously, in a hurry, wrapping up thousands of matters. Clear out as quickly as possible, escape in time, before the first wave of deadly air intrudes upon the city. . . . Everybody was busy building crates. Mountains of boards and plywood were brought in. The price of hammers and nails soared. Crates were the main topic of conversation--how to build them, what was the best thing to reinforce them with. Self-proclaimed experts, crate specialists, masters of crate styles, crate schools, and crate fashions appeared. . . . The richer the people, the bigger the crates they erected. . . . The crates of the wealthy stand in the main downtown streets or in the shadowy byways of exclusive neighborhoods. You can look at them and admire. The crates of the poor on the other hand languish in entranceways, in backyards, in sheds. They are hidden for the time being, but in the end they will have to be transported the length of the city to the port, and the thought of that pitiful display is unappetizing.
All the garbagemen have left! . . .
The odor was unbearable. I walked through the city dripping with sweat, holding a handkerchief to my nose. Dona Cartagina said the prayers against pestilence. There were no doctors, and not a single hospital or pharmacy remained open. The garbage grew and multiplied like the rising of a monstrous, disgusting dough expanding in all directions, impelled by a poisonous deadly yeast.
Later, when all the barbers, repairmen, mail carriers, and concierges had left, the stone city lost its reason for existing, its sense. It was a like a dry skeleton polished by the wind, a dead bone sticking up out of the ground toward the sun.
The next prisoner looks twelve. He says he's sixteen. He knows it is shameful to fight for the FNLA, but they told him that if he went to the front they would send him to school afterward. He wants to finish school because he wants to paint. If he could get a paper and pencil he could draw something right now. he could do a portrait. He also knows how to sculpt and would like to show his sculptures, which he left in Carmona. He has put his whole life into it and would like to study, and they told him that he will, if he goes to the front first. He knows how it works--in order to paint you must first kill people, but he hasn't killed anyone.
Someone finally does strike, the other side replies, dust rises from the earth, the dance of fire and death begins. Pablo walks around giving orders and checking supplies like a boy with candles on Christmas Eve. I walk behind him taking pictures. They all want to be photographed. Me now, me now, camarada, me, meeeeeeee! They stand rigidly and some of them salute. To leave a trace, to fix themselves, to remain somehow. I was here, just yesterday, he took a picture, yes, that's how I looked. That's the kind of face I had as a live man. I stand before you at attention: Look at me for a moment before you turn to something else.
Asked about the situation, [Felix] answers tersely: Confusao.
Confusao is a good word, a synthesis word, an everything word. In Angola it has its own specific sense and is literally untranslatable. To simplify things: Confusao means confusion, a mess, a state of anarchy and disorder. Confusao is a situation created by people, but in the course of creating it they lose control and direction, becoming victims of confusao themselves. There is a sort of fatalism in confusao. A person wants to do something, but it falls to pieces in his hands; he wants to set something in motion, but some power paralyzes him; he wants to create something, but he produces confusao. Everything crosses him; even with the best will in the world, he falls over and over into confusao. Confusao can overwhelm our thinking, and then others will say that the person has confusao in his head. It can steal into our hearts, and then our girls dump us. It can explode in a crowd and sweep through a mass of people--then there is fighting, death, arson. Sometimes confusao takes a more benign form in which it assumes the character of desultory, chaotic, but bloodless haggling.
MICHAL, RYSIEK HERE, LOOK, MY MONEY RAN OUT LONG AGO AND I AM BARELY ALIVE. IT IS MORE OR LESS CLEAR WHAT WILL HAPPEN, WHICH IS THAT THE ANGOLANS WILL WIN, BUT IT IS GOING TO TAKE A WHILE AND I AM ON MY LAST LEGS. SO I ASK YOU TO GIVE ME PERMISSION TO RETURN HOME. A PLANE IS SUPPOSED TO LEAVE FOR LISBON, AND COULD IT TAKE ME OK???
. . . I knew that things were going badly, I wanted to learn the details from him, but at the same time I didn't feel up to asking him questions that would hurt. So there was silence and then I said goodbye and left.
In the evening I brush off my mildewed suit and put on a tie: I'm returning to Europe.