Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nov. 8: Sound Cheese

Cheesers dearest,
There's this thing I've been working on for a few day, and been wanting to work on for even more days. I wanted to have it ready for November 2, which is an important anniversary for the subject of the piece. November 2 came and went. I fasted that day on the bus from Patagonia to Buenos Aires to create the space for The Piece to come through, and planned to have it ready at least for new moon a couple nights ago. Now the moon is filling up again.
So. I'm attaching it. It should come with footnotes, but doesn't have them yet. Eventually it wants to be an audio piece. A well-produced, compelling, complete audio piece. Translated from the english version and performed in Spanish and Hindi as well. Ha!! We'll see.
Meanwhile, I would love feedback, if you time and means and desire.
I meant to give you an update on Rania and her family in Palestine, the subject of the last semi-cheese. Not happening. For those interested, write to> and look up her website and awesome soon-in-bookstores-near-you book Fast Times in Palestine.
Meanwhile, I'm in Buenos Aires doing workshops and performances and will be in Singapore in a week.
Hey. Love you lots.
Ammu Malavika Mali Emu


A Song of Silence, Hunger, and Heroes

Folks sit down to eat. For a while at the table there is only the sound of chewing and
plates and mmming. Someone says, “Donde hay silencio hay hambre.” Where there is
silence, there is hunger. A conversation starts up, and a lovely meal is had.

Tonight, from Wallmapu to Manipur, where there is hunger, there is silence.

Followers of Islam take part in a 40 day holy fast, Ramadan, in which they let nothing
pass their lips each day, not food nor water nor even smoke, and break fast at night after
prayers. Those who cannot complete the fast make an offering by arranging for someone
else to have food to break their fast with each day, someone too poor to fast otherwise
because they have no control over when and what they eat.

Justice and spirituality are never far apart.

The power to fast doesn’t come with credit cards, PhDs, or AK-47s. It comes with a deep
knowledge of self and one’s place in the universe, and an undeniable love for life.

From Ireland to India, hunger striking is an ancient form of protest against injustice. For
some it is a tactic. For others it is part of their spiritual path. Sharmila Irom calls it her
bounden duty.

Sharmila Irom has refused food for 10 years. In November 2000, in Malom, Manipur,
the Indian military killed 10 villagers standing at a bus stop. Sharmila stopped eating,
and will not take food or drink into her body till the end of the brutal law of the land,
the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, under which such killings, and even worse, are
commonplace. Within days Sharmila was imprisoned for attempting to commit suicide,
and a tube was stuffed down her nose to force-feed her.

Have you ever felt the clarity that comes with not eating? The wakefulness that comes
when your body is not stuffed to sleep? The light that appears when you joyfully and
easily do your bounden duty?

Earlier this year Mapuche political prisoners in Chile carried out a hunger strike for three
months. They are being held under an anti-terrorist law that was put in place under the
Pinochet regime, the military dictatorship that held Chile prisoner for 16 years. Maria
Tralkal, a representative for the hunger strikers, said in her message of solidarity and

support to Sharmila Irom that she and her community consider force-feeding to be a form
of torture. So did the suffragettes of the United States and Britain almost a century ago.
So does the World Medical Association.

There is another kind of hunger, one that no amount of credit cards, PhDs, or AK-
47s will sate. One that consumes everything including itself. For what will it eat once
it has killed this planet, species by species, ecosystem by ecosystem, community by

Seventy-eight percent of countries reporting child malnutrition export food. A woman
taking action in defense of the life of her people is charged with attempting suicide.
From Chile to Chhattisgarh, those who defend the land that sustains them are called

To know someone, we ask them what they are called. To really know someone, we must
ask them what they call themselves. To ask them anything, we must speak their language.

In the Mapuche language, mapu is earth, dungun is speech or speaking, che is person
or people. In the Argentine side of Patagonia, after cultural and physical genocide, few
Mapuches speak Mapudungun. In its place there is mostly silence, and poor peasant
Spanish. But across the Andes in Chile the force of the tongue still lives strong. Where
young Mapuches grow up speaking the language of the earth, there lives a culture of
resistance and resilience against the destruction of the land.

Up north, the sing-song drawl of the Appalachians marks one as a hillbilly. Larry Gibson
is a hillbilly in West Virginia who never got past third grade but will rattle off facts
and figures quicker than you can catch them, as he tells you story after story about the
mountains that are his home, the blasting that is systematically leveling these mountains,
the thick black water that pours out of the taps, the wealth of the earth that has been
destroyed for the sake of black gold. He says if fighting the coal industry eventually
means living without electric lights, then heck, he’ll live without electric lights.

Have you ever been with someone who sources their energy from life itself?

I’ve never met Sharmila. I imagine she speaks slowly, softly, penetrating politically,
technically, and spiritually to the heart of the matter, without a hint of aggression, even
while speaking of great injustice, like Sergio Catrilaf does. I went to speak with him in
Temuco, Chile, this September. Despite having been let out on bail, he was still fasting
alongside the other Mapuche political prisoners.

The next day was the bicentennial anniversary of Chile’s independence from Spain. We
watched soldiers and schoolchildren in the military parade. The top officials wore capes

and hats that were eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany. For a brief moment I wasn’t sure
when or where I was.

Centuries ago the Spanish invaders met with tremendous resistance when they reached
Mapuche territory, known as Wallmapu. The conquest failed in the southern tip of the
Americas. The Spanish were unable to colonize the Mapuche people. Chile later as
an “independent” nation swallowed, or assimilated, one side of Wallmapu. Without
a war or a word, the Mapuche people were finally colonized by the simple drawing of
borders and the myth of national unity.

A similar story could be told about India, the nation that some think it is, and the
liberation that others will do their bounden duty to attain.

The story of the Mapuche political prisoners on hunger strike is as unheard as that of
Sharmila’s 10 phenomenal years of non-violent resistance, as silenced as the voices of the

And everywhere we haven’t looked there are unsung heroes about whom children are
waiting to hear.

I’d like to meet her some day. Part of me wants to meet in her in a free Manipur, but
another part of me wonders, if she begins to eat, will she lose her light?

Sharmila Irom. The Iron Lady, they call her. A Gandhi of today, they say.

Fasting and hunger were old friends for Mohandas K. Gandhi. Silence, too, he knew well,
observing a day without speaking every Monday for years.

So many of us want to change the world. Leave a livable planet for the children to come.
But we don’t know what to do. Perhaps, if we know silence well enough, and if we know
hunger well enough, we will know what to do, what feeds us, when to be silent, and when
to sing.


And tonight
we will keep right on singing
for our dead.

And we will give our dead
back to the Earth
and the Earth will embrace them
and breathe them into the seeds of new life.

And we will save these seeds

and exchange them
and plant them everywhere, even –
especially –
in our most crowded cities,
and the flowers will come
cracking out of the concrete,
and when the petals fall
we will clap our hands in wonder
at the fruits
and the plenty before us.

What we have, we will give,
and what we need, we will create.
We will hang dewdrops
from our ears
and sunshine
from our hips and
leave the diamonds
and the gold
for the earth to wear.

When we cut down
the body of a tree
we will first ask its spirit
for its permission,
and blessing.
When we take
from a body of water
we will remember that every drop is sacred.
We will know what we take
into our own body,
and what we become.

We will measure time
by the skies
and space by our stride.
The planet will be our playground,
the universe, our classroom,
and we will see all the world
in the seed of a grape.

We will build each other houses
and grow each other food
and bathe each other’ s children.

We will breathe the air of equality.
We will be good neighbours

and bad subjects.
We will have a healthy disrespect for authority
and question before we believe
but have faith before we dismiss
and understand before we judge.

We will write and re-write our own laws,
and the greatest punishment for a crime
will be the very knowledge
that we have committed it.

Our minds and hearts
will be weapons of love,
our bodies,

We will read and write about freedom
in the sunlight,
sing and dance about it
in the moonlight,
and whisper about it in the darkness.

And tonight we will find
deep inside us
the soulforce
that resides in the freedom
of Tibet
Manipur, Assam, Nagalim
the Cherokee Nation
the Mapuche Nation
the Yirrkala Nation
Leonard Peltier
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Hector Llaitul
Aung San Suu Kyi
Sharmila Irom

And tonight, we will...


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