Les Mouches – The Flies, Jean Paul Sartre

Why you need to read this play..

The ideology of existentialism presents the notion of finding the meaning of life through free will, choice, and personal responsibility. It has a slight penchant towards atheism since this same concept also alludes to being self reliant and independent ( not relying on external sources, a higher being etc)

So the play mainly presents us the city of Argos which is in great agony (great agony, I know! Colloquial language! sigh!) because the new tyrant king has successfully brainwashed the people into thinking that they must share the guilt of his murdering the legitimate king. For this reason, they celebrate a ridiculous festival of the dead, (‘festival des morts’) to ask the dead for forgiveness for living while they stay frozen in the land of the dead. Then there is the God Jupiter who seems to be happy about the whole situation and actually feeds off of people’s guilt. His aim is to keep a person crippled and under his power by reminding them of their guilt. Jupiter does not fail to remind the current king that the slain king’s blood is on his hands. The queen (Clytemnestre) who is also guilt ridden has a deathly face which is as cold and as unfeeling to the point that her own daughter Electre can not stand being around her.

The pivotal and didactic part of the play comes up with the arrival of Orestre who refuses to go with the culture of guilt that exists in the city. Orestre is important because he is the legitimate hier to the throne; as a baby, he is given to strangers who are leaving to another city so he is unable to grow in his own legitimate country; but luckily he grows in the care of an affluent couple in a city where life, beauty and harmony reside so to arrive in his native country and meet a place that is physically filthy and reeking of guilt, fear and regret is something Orestre is simply unable to accept. He reveals himself to his sister Electre and together they decide to assassinate the king and their mother who they both agree is disgusting. After the initial murder of the king, Electre crumbles with guilt and is unable to go shake the guilt off or continue with the two’s initial plot. Now the flies are literally the workers of the God Jupiter who feed off of people’s guilt and create this false sense of being a safe haven. Jupiter and the flies’  secret aim though is to encourage dependency so that he/they uses this tool to forever remind the victim of his or her guilt which makes him/them happy.

Why I love this play

This play has a background that touches slightly on French history and hard times the German occupation of France brought in 1943. The play is also very dramatic and has strong symbols that are used to convey good ideas. Example are how the flies/ Les Mouches are the physical representation of the guilt one feels. Flies are attracted when there is something unpleasant or something that appeals to them (which we generally know is disgusting), therefore the flies used in this play communicates a sense of the damaging and ugly effects of guilt. If you reek of guilt, you attract flies which hound you for life until you get the courage to shake them off. We also learn that one of the components that attract guilt is regret. I like this play because it draws you in and throws a lot of issues at you but at the same time, it contains rich information perfect for analyses.

Papa Doc and the New BMW

We hadn’t seen papa doc in a long  while. Calls to his cell phone relayed the same old rehearsed voice message. He had accused us  of being users who called on him only when we needed rides. On those days, papa doc would listen quietly and depending on his mood, would give a brief harangue about our abrupt calls and the fact that he isn’t a taxi driver that we could have as and when we decided. We would swallow our pride and listen as he ranted with the hope that after the brief nkwasiasem, he would finally show up, and then after we hung up, we would wait hours and hours on end for his arrival.

‘Yes I will be there at 4pm’….

Papa doc would show up at 5 or even 6 amidst a flow of ‘je suis desolés’. On other days, he would appear defensive because after all, the car was his and he was the one giving us a ride. On other days also, he would arrive on time, drive us to our destination amidst love and conversation and general banter only for us to get there and for him to snap at us and create a scene about how slow we were being. ‘Hurry up!’ He would spit, ‘Hurry, I don’t have all the time in the world, dépêchéz-vous,les filles!’. Ei, so was this how life was?! A common ride could warrant this much disrespect?!. We thought we were women, who needed to be addressed as such, but really, where did ‘les filles’ come from?! Had we missed anything? Had he morphed into our dad ?! And did the change suddenly grant him the chance to call us girls?! We had had it and so we decided to buy a car too. It was that simple.We loved papa doc, but, love just wasn’t enough especially when you mostly got nonsense in response to help you wanted. We could no longer swallow the spittle and the words he threw in our faces. Papa doc himself had taught us a Senegalese word, ‘deng’ and this word was supposed to be used in reference to a punk. We concluded quickly that the teacher of the word deserved the word the most. He was indeed deng and no one could wrestle that title from him.

So on one bright day, well it wasn’t exactly bright, but then our good fortune made it bright enough  we decided on a car. We bought the Silver Ford and paid cash for it. It was such a delightful day and the birds seemed to chirp even louder. Progress! Ah such sweet relief! We could go anywhere, any day, anytime and all it took was consistent dexterity of American roads and a slight press of the accelerator. Victory, independence and dignity smiled at us and we in turn, hugged them back. No one could tell us anything! We were women of our own and we could do whatever we wanted…yeah thanks Queen B!  we had that hop to our steps and our Friday trips uptown increased. The only intimidating part was THE POLICE..they were bad news from hell and in the era of #blacklivesmatter -ing, we weren’t trying to get stopped, arrested or worse,- killed! So we had fun, but we were cautious, vigilant and responsible about it.

Had we told papa doc about our new baby? No. Had he noticed we had dogged him? Yes!

(..Dog, – a Ghanaian slang that means ignoring someone especially when you no longer have a need for them).

He sure had noticed that we’d dogged him and everyone knew about it thanks to his leaky mouth.  Since information had legs, this piece of juicy information about papa doc calling us users and slave drivers came knocking at our door days after he had said it. We went ballistic because guess what, we had called him endlessly to break the good news to him only for him to leave our calls unanswered and unreturned as always. This guy! We called him once again, and guess what? No answer. Days later on a calm Friday afternoon, we caught him in our parking lot! We literally had a huge free space for parking which meant that our friend had come all the way from his hinterland apartment to park right in front of our house without so much as passing by to say hello. And you say papa doc isn’t deng?! We pounced on him and nearly tore him to pieces. He had on a navy blue kaftan that looked starched and well pressed with complimentary slippers and that Taqiyah cap that he hardly washed. He looked dignified enough so we couldn’t rough him up but then for some reason, the stream of ‘je suis desoles’ came out and we forgave him and showed him our latest toy.

A week later, we saw a photo uploaded on Facebook by a worn out papa doc who was perched on a bicycle. The caption beneath the photo read;  ‘me and my new bmw’. The caption was both humorous and overly comprehensible;  Papa doc’s smooth Volkswagen had developed a fault and he was going to be carless for weeks to come. (Evil grin)…

Who were the bosses now?! 🙂

PS.Do not gloat on the misfortunes of your enemy friend

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“The part of the towel you clean your bum with today could be the part you wipe your face with tomorrow; be nice” – anonymous

 

The Grasshopper and the Ant – La Fontaine

The Grasshopper having sung all summer found herself ill provided for when winter came. Not even a scrap of fly or worm. She went and told her neighbor the ant, begging her for a loan of a few grains to survive until the new season.

“I’ll pay you back”, she said, ‘before August, animal’s honour, principal and interest.’ Sadly the ant was not a lender.

“What were you doing in the hot weather?”, she asked the grasshopper.

“Night and day I sang to all comers” replied the grasshopper.

“You sang? Great! Well you can dance now” said the ant.

At a cursory glance one realises that this little anecdote is didactic and tells of the need to save. Jean de la Fontaine, the French fablist is author of about two hundred and thirty more fables that are equally entertaining.

Papa doc II

Papa doc was Congolese, ebony skinned, bespectacled and immensely dramatic. We just loved him for his occasional constant awkwardness and pure heart. The thing about papa doc is that he has ultimately good intentions. Good intentions that make him want to genuinely extend a hand to friends in need but somehow, lack of planning, a lack of an awareness and respect for time, his overwhelmed life among a host of other unknown factors prevents him from being the truly helpful and optimal version of himself. There seemed to be a constant battle between his ideal and real self.

So on one pleasant Saturday, I entrust my precious plans into the loving plans of papa doc and what happens? He disappoints as expected. I once heard someone say that  expectations breed disappointment. I gave the saying a thought and decided I was no longer upset being that I was also to blame to an extent for not measuring my expectations.

Later that day, he offered to make up by taking me and my friend out to the Chinese restaurant that reminded us of home. Since an invitation to eat together did not directly translate into eating freely, we clutched our purses tightly and sped off in the direction of food with empty bellies and salivating mouths. We imagined the particularly fresh, seasoned and crisp taste of the chicken the restaurant was known for. Contrary to the usually grumpy and burdened waiter who often served us and acted like he was rather paying us for eating at the restaurant, we were met by a rather pleasant waitress who was clad in a neatly pressed uniform. She came up to us and after several negotiations of meaning, including modified Franco-Anglo and Sinophone accents twisted and beaten up in a melodramatic scene, our order was finally taken and our meal on its way. We ate and had a good conversation and expected to go the Dutch way after lunch.

‘Bill together or separate?’

‘Separate!’ My friend and I chanted!

In a bit, the crisp sheet that would spell the monetary value of our eating came in. We walked up to the cashier and swiped away. Papa doc remained motionless. Monsieur, its time to pay, let’s go man, aren’t you ready?!

Moments later, we arrive home amidst laughter and tears. Papa doc knew he had no money in his pocket, yet, he invited us to wine and dine. We ended up paying for him; in addition to good company and conversation and free gossip. In effect, he did nothing at all in the sense of making up for the earlier inconvenience. All this was too funny…but once again, he was our very own papa doc, so AGAIN, we will let it slide.

The Door

The house held its breath, the inhalation and exhalation ceased like a noisy TV set that had been muted abruptly. Abrupt, yes that’s the word ; and it hung in the air for what seemed like forever as I actually came to understand and fully appreciate its meaning.

Abrupt : definition-Sudden and Unexpected.

I was distraught and  visibly shaken. My friends had teased in the past about how I sounded like I was laughing whenever I cried ; how I wish this wail would actually transform into a cackle now.

He was gone. They returned from the hospital with the remnants of what he possessed; a cell phone, a book bag, a note pad with illegible writing which he kept as a contact book and other things I was too broken to take note of.

‘What happened?’ I asked in between sobs, ‘what happened to him?’ I asked again.

‘He fell’. ‘He fell’ was the inadequate response that returned my question.

The cell phone begun to ring and for a minute after the ring subsided, we all sat in silence leaving the phone to lie  lifeless as if hoping against hope that somehow its owner would suddenly appear and ask us to hand him his phone.

The Door II

Ghana is a vast country with more than a dozen ethnic groups which in turn have their unique idiosyncrasies and conventions. I am Fante, the year is 2014 and though I believe myself a true daughter of the land, I just found out that ours is a group that has an unwavering respect for the dead. Respect that is palpable enough to make questioning minds  uncomfortable and hence my predicament.

‘The door must be locked for a year’

‘What?!’, ‘Why?!’

‘That’s how it’s done. This is out of respect, it is only after a year that the door can be opened and mainly by an elderly person’

‘I see’. Was the curt answer that escaped my lips.

The door was subsequently locked and day in day out the mystery of the locked door occupied and assailed my thoughts. How could I avoid it when the door stared back at me no matter which entry or exit point I took in the house? By some twisted fate, it seemed as if the door had also begun to purposefully amplify my fears by looking darker and more imposing than ever.

On some days, I wondered if the occupant of the room came by to sleep in. This silly and unexplainable fear of what lay beyond the door was in part influenced by the help who claimed to have heard a distinct shuffling of feet; the same way my grandad used to walk. I dismissed her claims as ludicrous and still went on observing the door; more curious than ever; checking for tell tale signs of any life , activity or occupancy.

Over time, my relationship with the door moved from a mixture of curiosity and stale fear to resignation. A kind of resignation that made one throw their hands in the air and accept their unchangeable fate.

Whatever I did, the door was here to stay.

I couldn’t dismiss the fear and curiosity that gnawed at me. What was I even afraid of in the very first place?! A fear of ghosts? Ha! Who said they even existed? Or Had I read and watched and read too much Harry Potter to the extent that the dementors in the hooded masks seemed real?

I was a mess, I yearned to know yet was unable to ascertain my willingness to face whatever it was if it decided to face me.

Our Near Death Experience with Papa Doc

What makes one stick with a person though keeping their company can potentially bring distasteful consequences? This had been the third time that such an event had happened in the company of our bubbly papa doc. Papa doc had a car that was in the winter of its life. The car made a loud wheezing sound as it sped along the road. Of course, the car turned heads and I need not tell you about how many more heads it turned!  Growing up, I had learnt what an onomatopoeia was and had been taught also to associate the sound ‘vvroooom’ with cars. I only came to fully appreciate the meaning of this ‘vvroooom’ when I met papa doc, and his car..

‘Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down’ – Oprah Winfrey

I guess this quote explained the relationship we had with papa doc and his car; not to mention the fact that on one occasion we nearly got into an accident because unfortunately the prank papa doc tried to play on us turned into a bad joke. That afternoon, we took the Road not taken (Robert Frost) and decided to journey downtown with papa doc. Before we begun the journey, papa doc asked one of us to pray, this was quite unusual very unusual to say the least, yet as religious and unquestioning as we were, one of us prayed. After the prayer, Papa doc literally stepped on the accelerator and made a crazy zig zagging and criss crossing pattern with the frail car! Young, Ghanaian and frantic, all we did was shout ‘Jesus’, Jesus’ amidst pleading with papa doc to stop whatever prank he was playing.

Disgruntled and shocked, we questioned what the  intention of the stunt was. We had only a few more minutes to chastise him for playing with our lives when we realized that the car had begun to move rather slower and with less fluidity. We rolled to a stop in front of a small house only to realize that our suspicions were indeed right! We had a flat tyre! Sometimes, a ride on the bus is worth more than a million papa doc rides! Never again! We shall keep our loyalty for another occasion when it is under less fatal conditions.