Refugees in the desert is the subject of the poem, which is the second of the opening Taxonomy, “Pyre of the Accidental Butterfly,” of my 2013 book Caravaggio’s Dagger.
In 1989, I lived in Toronto and worked as the director of administration and planning of Atkinson College at York University. The dean and one of the associate deans, at the impetus of one of the faculty, supported a renewal of outreach activity in eastern Africa.
Because of my involvement with the project over its two years, I was fortunate to be able to spend several months on the ground in Africa. The prelude to work in east Africa necessitated work in Cairo, where our stay was facilitated by a prominent and influential Coptic Egyptian who had close ties to then President Hosni Mubarak, whom he had long known through connection with the Egyptian air force, and with whom he had flown as an air force officer and pilot during the October War of 1973.
One day we were taken in a caravan of Mercedes to Sinai, to see the desert, the Suez Canal, irrigation farming, and the shattered remnants of the war. These remnants included burned out tanks and vehicles and exploded shards and shrapnel both visible and buried by the sands. We were advised not to leave the sedans to wander over the landscape.
Later, work in Nairobi enabled us to see the slum of Kibera, through the assistance of a Kikuyu who later became a business partner, and whom later still we, to our great distress, lost communication with, as was not uncommon in Kenya during the presidency of Daniel arap Moi, who, in 1988, had been returned to power in the election that did not use the secret ballot. The visit to Kibera made it clear why individuals would risk all to leave where they were to gain where others prospered.
“Colonists of Colour” was written between 23 June 2004 and 16 November 2008, in Vancouver (British Columbia) and St. Stephen (New Brunswick), and published in Descant (Toronto, Ontario), 159, 43/4, 139 (2012).
The poem can be listened to here.
Caravaggio’s Dagger is published by Iguana Books (Toronto, Ontario, 2013, 105 pp.). It can be obtained from the publisher, and from Amazon, Chapters Indigo, and many other international online distributors. Buy it here, or here or here. Kindle, ePub, or print edition.