Notes On Elsewhere

This reflection is by Esther Nangobi Mirembe, the managing editor of Writivism, a literary initiative based in Uganda. Esther’s beautiful non-fiction piece is about the disruption brought by the Covid -19 pandemic as well as the tranquility they have found in literature.


February 2020

There’s a little corner of the world I call my happy place. It’s a coffee shop, really. I am meeting this person for the first time even though I have known (about) them for a while. I am not sure how long our meeting is supposed to last but it is definitely not all afternoon into the evening: night until the shop closes. They read me poetry over wine. They have the most beautiful voice. I am happy. They say, you should write about moments like this too, it does not always have to be about struggling. Or something along those lines. And I have been haunted by them since.

March 2020

I am panicking about this thing that I can feel coming towards me. The virus. I am suspicious of every sneeze and refuse to shake hands. At this time, there is no national response to it and it has not yet been declared a pandemic but my best friend who has been away for close to 3 years is home from China and my residency has been postponed indefinitely and everything feels so real but the people I see everyday insist Black people are immune and it is not coming to Africa and… The last time I am in a bar, Cardi B is blaring about shit getting real to a lot of excitement. Something feels off.

What I count as Day One is the first time there is an address from Museveni. It is a Wednesday. I remember it is a Wednesday because I am in a midweek service at All Saints’ Church while Museveni suspends gatherings such as these and orders schools closed in a day’s time. I am distracted the whole service, checking for live tweets. Everything after that happens almost in a blur: first case, public transport, curfew, lockdown, April…


“Inevitably moving toward pleasure is also a desire to move away from pain and affective states that counter pleasure.” – The Black Shoals, Tiffany Lethabo King

I have been thinking a lot about grief. Because of the deaths. Because of the uncertainty. Because of the things that cannot be, will not be. And I am trying to learn the language that moves toward pleasure, inevitably, as a desire to move away from grief. Even if only in small moments. I have been reading a lot more, finding the language in Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals. She writes: “I need to remind myself of the joy, the lightness, the laughter so vital to my living and my health. Otherwise, the other will always be waiting to eat me up into despair again. And that means destruction. I don’t know how, but it does.”

I avoid the news. I stop waiting for Museveni’s address by the fifth one. The information will find me. I mute buzzwords. I turn on ‘Do Not Disturb’. I take walks. I move my body; to remind myself of the joy, the lightness. Aleya Kassam offered these 10 tips in a different time:situation about caring because “we also can’t exist in a state of paralysis. We must exhale, pick ourselves up and figure out what next.” I am taking seriously the one on sharing beauty, paying attention to flowers and sunsets because:

“Beauty, it seems, is constantly made. It is both fortunate and unfortunate. Surprising. For some, to find beauty is to search through ruins. For some of us beauty must be made over and over again out of the sometimes fragile, the sometimes dangerous.” – A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging, Dionne Brand

I think about February with the lover who haunts me, and I think of a word they gave me. ‘Elsewhere’. As in, some other place. As in, something other than this. Finding beauty in the ruins. Making beauty out of the fragile. They remind me that this, too, is a possibility. It does not always have to be about struggling. At least for a moment(s). 

The news is frustrating, but we dance. The future is uncertain, but we laugh. 

Time moves disconcertingly, but we spend hours on the phone with loves. They read us poetry, and, in those moments, we don’t have to think about the end of the world. Something is happening here, in the elsewhere, that presents the possibility of a new one. That gestures to signs of life in a space: time filled with death. That, maybe, if we linger in it a little bit longer, we can find beauty, perhaps, pleasure.

“…you look around you and present embraces are equally discomforting, present glimpses are equally hostile. Art, perhaps music, perhaps poetry, perhaps stories, perhaps aching constant movement — dance and speed — are the only comforts.” – A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging, Dionne Brand

Because it is only fitting to end this with caution against self-indulgence, Lorde reminds us;

“But a clear distinction must be made between this affirmation of self and the superficial farce of “looking on the bright side of things.” Like superficial spirituality, looking on the bright side of things is a euphemism used for obscuring certain realities of life, the open consideration of which might prove threatening or dangerous to the status quo.”

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