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Play and state violence at the ‘porous borders’

August 3, 2010

‘Vai ter pipa, foguete e morteiro’
(There will be kites, rockets and mortars)
—O Rappa

You hear the notion of ‘porous borders’ shuffled around frequently these days, viz. reactionary commentators portraying the U.S.-Mexico border (especially the Arizona-Mexico border) as a lawless, erratic and potentially violent frontier. Though it sits as one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world, one deeply fraught with violence and death for would-be Latino migrants* the imagined flexibility of the border has invited serious attempts at legalizing racism and even hate-fueled murder.

But unlike the U.S.-Mexico border which separates actual states—and a state necessarily implies friend/enemy distinctions like borders—in Brazil, Palestine/Israel and occupied Afghanistan walls and other visible/invisible dividers act as progenitors of state violence and serve to uphold ‘apartness.’ I’d like to look at the notion of play as a (positive) form of border porosity in non-state borders.

I took the first picture above near the Dona Marta wall, a now complete project that was proposed as an ‘eco-barrier’ to protect the Atlantic forest from the wrath of the poor and lower-income who live in the slum (within the community the slum is called Santa Marta, and the barrier the ‘Gaza wall’). While the press, especially Istoé and O Globo, clamored to stamp their note of approval for the project, which has since been expanded to nearly 20 other slum communities, the wall as a stigmatized symbol (and what wall doesn’t carry an immediate stigma) has garnered unfavorable press as well. What surprised me most about the ‘Gaza wall’ was how truly porous it is: at a little over five or six feet high I could have jumped over it, and many men and boys did so to collect fruit. And of course, standing on the top of giant boulders near the comparatively diminutive wall were young boys flying kites. Their faces carried looks of intense concentration and focus on the kites, which outstretched in the open sky seemed to forecast an aerial porosity with a near-mythical ability to melt power.

The Palestinian kite-flying children of Gaza need no introduction: they are now world-famous and Guinness record-holders (shattering their own previous record for kites flown). The positive attention the children have gotten centers (rightly so) on their ingenuity at concocting a collective and totally inspiring kite game in the middle of a crippling, un-fun, illegal and seemingly insurmountable Israeli siege, one that has invaded Gaza through land, sea and air.

But like the young kite flyers of Rio de Janeiro, this play at the border exposes the truly absurd nature of aerial/maritime/land stranglehold because, once again, Aerial porosity melts power.

The last image was taken two years ago in Afghanistan. Kite flying or gudiparan bazi is the single most important form of play for men and boys in Afghanistan. The kites got attention in the North and West for getting banned by the Taliban (who have also banned it in Pakistan) but far less attention for surviving as a form of play throughout numerous U.S.-Nato aerial drone attacks over Afghanistan and Pakistan. (In the theater of war this region is egregiously lumped together as Af-Pak, as though the smudges of people and houses under the noses of drones and snipers were one big blob; one could make an argument for regional solidarity through kite-flying, one that unites Afghanistan and Pakistan against both U.S.-Nato occupation and warfare and the Taliban’s deprivation.)

While we do well to keep the Brazilian, Palestinian and Afghan examples specific to their points of conflict, the fact that it takes children with kites to expose the cockamamie sham of occupation, economic deprivation and warfare allows a sliver of optimism amidst so much distress.

* More than 100,000 children try to enter the U.S. via the Mexico border every year, many in search of parents they haven’t seen in years. (Source: Rebecca Cammisa, Which Way Home)

(From top: photo by South/South, Rio de Janeiro; AP, Beit Lahiya; Jason Burke/Guardian UK, Kabul.)

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