In the Continuum and other plays: Part Three


IF you have been following our literary conversations you will remember what I said about the global explanation of the plight of women prisoners, their children and their beloved in A Tragedy of Lives: that they are all victims of larger malignant forces of history and various acts of man.
You want to keep this at the back of your mind as we navigate through this thought-provoking and heart-rending play, When I meet my Mother, a play that lays bare the tragic lives of young people who have come to be known euphemistically as ‘street kids’.
The setting of this play is a town in Brazil, but it can also be any other place in the so-called Third World countries where gruelling poverty, squalor and slum drive hordes of young people into the street in search of meagre survival.
The whole play is written in a rather prosaic style.
Of course, it is meant to be performed and watched from terraces or from any theatrical platform including of course street theatre but it can also be staged in your head.
The latter is made possible by the omnipresence of the narrator who keeps filling in the audience on reasons why certain actions happen as well as possible meanings and implications of what transpires.
To a reader, events in the play come to their attention in a stream of consciousness with each scene representing episodes-cum-ideas.
This reading of the play makes it a drama of ideas focusing on the plight of the street kid.
In other words, the play invites us to an intellectual gala or symposium where we are challenged to interrogate the plight of street kids throughout the world beyond what we have taken for granted.
First the exposition introduces us to the life of squalor a peasant family “somewhere in this country” experiences: “of possessions in cardboard boxes tied with string, cloth bags, bundles wrapped in blankets, cheap plastic shopping bags.”
This provides the historical and structural reality which drives kids into the street, the exposition seems to hint.
What we see, however, is symptoms of a bigger structural order (if not disorder) which creates conditions of plenty for some and others which create permanent poverty outcrops for others.
The latter is slowly and gradually unveiled by the narrator who alongside other characters keeps poking our consciences.
Through her exquisite narrative intrigue, the narrator opens the play with an injunction: “Can you see their eyes in the darkness, shining with hope and with fear?
“They come from Para, Maranhao, MatoGrosso do sul.
“Bid them welcome the new arrivals.”
One could add that they come from everywhere, these ‘God’s bits of wood’. They come from all over thus transcending the immediacy of the local setting. They leave their homeless homes to join new families in the streets – hence the inunction “welcome them” –vanhuwo the narrator seems to be suggesting.
But what kind of family is this?
It is a family that is united by deprivation, a family joined together by the desire to survive together, a new subculture with a new constitution directing this alternative form of existence which is diametrically opposed to those favoured by circumstances.
Yes, the narrator reminds us early when she warns: “the swollen city will not (welcome them).”
This observation is soon confirmed by the Shopkeeper in Scene Two who treats them as vermin; he hates them for fouling the environment thus chasing away his customers.
The street kids are aware of his hatred and will not allow it to deny them some form of existence hence they retaliate by tripping him down before running away in momentary triumph.
Their act, however, banal registers a simple truth about their humanity.
In fact this small act foreshadows a larger revolution that comes at the end of the play when the larger community and government face the wrath of the street kids who are demanding not only visibility but the recognition of their rights in line with Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The collective sense of belonging that develops among the street kids is a direct result of what Karl Marl calls immiseration.
In the words of this unparalleled human rights advocate immiseration makes the oppressed move from, “I to We”.
In other words, they move a state of false consciousness to a state of true consciousness; the latter referring to the realisation that their collective deprivation is not a state of nature, but something transmitted from skewed structures of society.
They realise that those who own the means of production do not only manufacture or cause to have laws protecting their interests erected, but that they also control the police who enforce those laws.
This is amply demonstrated by the character of Sir Alves who tosses the two police officers, Joao and Eni, for failing to reign in street kids who are making their clients uncomfortable by their dirt and unending begging.
The stinking snobbery of Alves is seen in the way he wishes to use money notes as toilet paper and in the way he burns notes in mockery of the helpless police officers.
His power over them is stunning.
He threatens the officer with diabolical authority: “you’d like the rest of the money (referring to the notes now ashes), wouldn’t you?
“Then earn it, or your wretched jobs will go up in smoke”.
Surely such laws which protect not the oppressed, but the oppressor should not be called people’s laws hence conscientisation begins with rejecting the laws and structures that make inequality holy.
Hence the street kids actually create their own antithetic constitution.
It is made up of a set of rules which call for vigilance (“Sleep with one eye open), which teach strategies of survival (“moving targets are hard to hit”), which teach the oppressed young to be always wary of treacherous elders (“A grown up who says he’s your friend wants something”) and which calls for unity of purpose among the oppressed (“you won’t last on your own).
These four laws are like a covenant of life for the embattled.
In the end, the street kids have an organised union which challenges the hypocrisies of such political rhetoric as ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’ which are meaningless if they don’t serve the people.
In a nutshell, the play is a call to global reason.
We need to reconfigure a world where everyone enjoys the minimum necessaries of life.
Only then can we give everyone the dignity of being human which currently a monopoly of a few.


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