The Kreutzer Sonata in Addis Ababa

by Maniza Naqvi

I stare at the garbled reflection, shifting shape, regiments of memory’s purchase, in full face and profile, read the riot act, novel, in the uneven mirror of an emperor’s palace as I identify myself and try to tear off a niqab.

When Leo Tolstoy heard the Kreutzer Sonata, played for the first time, it moved him to write his controversial novel by the same name. Perhaps the music of the sonata resonated with his already heightened sense of war weary inner turmoil, as though under each peaceful note fevered a conflict between the generosity of intent and the tightness of guilt and complicity. As though, it was a troubling sense of heightened anxiety, a railing against injustice, and the whole sale commoditization of humanity: a typical plea of an intellectual for truthful release from what is morally reprehensible.

Count Leo Tolstoy was a scion of an oppressive system, a vastly wealthy feudal landlord, who owned serfs and whose pedigree was older and more aristocratic then the Czar himself. Yet, he was known as a critic of the system, a social reformer, an ascetic and a moralist. He took a stand on and spoke out against every kind of humanitarian transgression from the mishandling of famines in Russia to the persecutions of dissenters and censorships by an often opaque and cruel regime. He was expected to do so, to be the voice of social conscience, by everyone in Russia: by the Progressives and the public who revered his writings and novels and considered him the counter point on moral authority.

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Divining Water


By Maniza Naqvi

“Say: Just think: If your water were to dry up in the morning who will bring you water from a fresh, flowing stream?”

A sunflower yellow plastic container caught my attention as my cab weaved its way through morning traffic in DC. Exactly the kind carried every day of the year on the backs of camels, mules, women and children from Addis to Lemo to Jijiga to Woldia to Mekele-and all the places east, south, west and north of them. The kind like a jerry can used for selling cooking oil and recycled by millions to fetch water often over long distances and difficult terrain. I walked back later in the day in search of it. There it sat, just around the corner from the White House gracing the ledge outside a vending kiosk. The yellow color, radiant and hopeful in the sunshine set against the chrome exterior, of the tiny shop. There perhaps, as a memory or a talisman, or an offering. Inside, the kiosk, an Ethiopian woman selling hotdogs and chewing gum– and bottled water from New Zealand to passersby.

Thousands of miles and days later in Addis, my eyes focus on the yellow container strapped to the back of a slow moving woman in the crowd milling about a construction site, my eyes train on her, she is pregnant. Hundreds of dilapidated and messy kiosk sized houses, cafes, businesses have been removed, to find livelihoods elsewhere on the outskirts of attention, to make way for organized, tall and sprawling shiny corporate sized realities. Inside, one such air conditioned conference room, where I sit gazing out the window, the speaker has been talking about climate change—the rising temperatures, more rains, more floods and more droughts: this subject will lead all others from now on, he says, and will be the new theme for attracting financing for those whose business it is to reduce poverty. The answer is charismatic carbon— programs which have the potential to attract financing to support food for the poor through dispensing carbon credit to growth industries.

Someone whispers in my ear: “New theme? Nothing new at all! It seems like hostage taking of the poor by holding their condition up for their own ransom. We won’t create the conditions to allow people to grow their own food—and we won’t stop polluting or thinking only about growth and we’ll keep shoveling food aid at people whose weather risk we’ve increased because of our pollution. We’ll keep thinking of indebting further, credit this and credit that—now can you believe this? Carbon credit! Charismatic carbon! Burning up our planet–drying up our water for greed.!”

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