Multiple Belonging and Connectivity in the 21st Century

A conversation between Zena-Gabrielle Hailu and Undine Whande, 2009-2011


As we sat in Café Duddel in the German city of Cologne, we sensed that the brainstorming we had been working on for weeks was emerging as a direction. “Transhumanity” was not (yet) something we could set down to paper in the form of a definition. No, it would not let itself be held down, it needed to move. The process, for us, was transhumanity – a journey we both shared in very different forms and ways. How else to describe our joint experience here in Germany, defining the German word Heimat (for home in the plural), a form which you will not find in German dictionaries? Was “home” the right word, when the concept of belonging was no longer static? When roots were sprouted in South Africa, Ethiopia, Canada, the Unites States, Germany… in the face of all our seeming differences, these roots were from the same tree. This, we sensed as we sought the answer to the questions of where is home, what is home? As we pondered these questions, we reflected and shared our own stories.

Zena-Gabrielle Hailu1

My parents, Maman and Baba, were among the first in their respective families to have received an academic education. Maman is an American with French-Canadian roots, while Baba is an Ethiopian with Gurage roots. The languages we spoke at home included Amharic, French, Québécois, English, Kistani or a mixture of them all, depending on the context. My parents met at the University of California in Los Angeles. My mother was learning Amharic, which she needed as a Peace Corps Volunteer going to Ethiopia, and my father, who just happened to be her Amharic teacher, was working on his doctoral thesis. I was born in Addis Ababa where my parents had built their life. We had to flee Ethiopia for political reasons in 1976. Everything my parents left in Ethiopia was confiscated by the government. My parents decided to settle for what they thought would be a transitory time close to Washington DC in the United States.

We were poor in a material sense. My mother worked as a laboratory technician for hours on end. My father, a professor whose area of specialty was Semitic languages, spent more time at home than my mother did throughout most of my childhood. My two sisters, my brother and I never experienced the so-called classical woman‟s role at home. Perhaps this also had to do with the fact that Baba repeated time and time again that women were just as good as men. Almost everything my parents earned was invested in our education. We attended the Lycée Rochambeau de Washington, an international French private school, where we had friends from every imaginable country. When I went to visit them I would eat beignets from Gabon or taboule from Lebanon, or, or, or, and every single time some small part of something wove its way into me from every home, every language, every culture.

1 Hailu, Zena-Gabrielle, Diaries of a Transhuman, Excerpts (2010, unpublished).

My best friend was a neighbour whose parents, both doctors, had fled from Poland; so that part of me still responds with emotional recognition when I hear Polish being spoken.  I was “coloured” in the United States and the complex maze of American race history also meshed its way into me. I still can remember how in some states my parents and I did not get served in restaurants. In the US, my mother was white and my father black.

I was assigned a different identity every day. Latinos thought I was Latina, Indians thought I was Indian, Moroccans thought I was Moroccan, Malaysians thought I was Hawaiian. When I went to Kenya and asked the Kikuyu friends I‟d made there what colour I was, they answered “white”. Many Ethiopians calmly assured me throughout my childhood that although I only was half-Ethiopian, I still was a real Ethiopian. The other parts of my self were not really so important to them. Even God regularly received new identities: Maman is Catholic, Baba Ethiopian Orthodox, and my friends were Muslim, Jewish, Zoroastrian, Atheist, Wicca, Animists, Hindu, Buddhist and Baha‟i.

I immigrated to Germany in 2003, making the choice to live in political exile from the United States, where the manipulation of fear after September 11 became intolerable to me. The process of acculturation in Germany proved to be formative for me. I went through this process consciously, as an adult, and I experienced the utter disintegration of my persona through this process. It was in this “in-between place” that I experienced an identity which superceded all my given identities. It was in this inner place that I recognised that I no longer needed to be the spectator of my own stories. I had given others the power to name things, to create feelings, to develop my life plots without realising that I could also think up the words to my stories, that I could give things names, and that I could be my very own story weaver.

Undine Whande

I was born on the small island of Helgoland, a one-square-kilometre rock out in the North Sea some way towards England. My parents, surname Kayser, were middle-class white Germans. My father was a doctor of marine biology and smelled of seaweed lab and occasionally pipe smoke, secretly, because of the heart condition that would take his life early. My mother was an aspirant-lawyer-turned-housewife when, during her articles in the early 1960s in Hamburg, she was told by the judge to get out of the courtroom – for pregnant women belonged in the kitchen. They were both war children, tired of any kind of conflict, eager to get away from the bustle of Berlin and live a peaceful life with their three children, tucked away by the sea. My father was worldly. He had travelled widely and invited the Indian and Polish guest researchers to our house for dinner. My mother was, in my eyes, often afraid, nervous, shunning strangers in our home. Even the mostly German children who became our friends were closely scrutinised and commented on in terms of their class, cleanliness and manners. When I gave in to my adventurous sense of dress as a child, my grandmother would tell me I looked “Polish”.

We lived in a small village, the main population numbering 800 plus the navy cadets that manned the local base. The one Turkish boy in my primary school was made fun of. Borhan was his name. Borhan – Knurrhahn we said, which is a particularly ugly kind of fish. In high school we had three black schoolmates, fathered by an American GI who had been stationed on the island in the 1970s, and born to three different women. Mostly we pretended they were like us, only wondering when we reached our teens why our friend insisted on wearing blue contact lenses over her beautiful brown eyes.

In adolescence I turned to rebellion, punk, bunking school and anti-apartheid politics. I took up a position as head girl at school. We protested against the German school system with its tendency to early-on class discrimination. The Berlin wall came down. Mandela walked free. And then a scholarship to the US drew me out of a potential career in drugs and got me interested in intercultural exchange work.

After a year in a Mennonite family in Colorado, being called a “Kraut”, saluted with “Heil Hitler” and having a Jewish fellow pupil leave the room when I entered, I returned to Germany and found my calling in the connection between intercultural communication and historical consciousness work. With “Youth for Understanding” we took groups of Polish and German youth to Auschwitz and Neuengamme concentration camp memorials, to the former Gestapo headquarters in Berlin and other historical sites. We debated late into the night, struggled with each other, cried together, listened to heart-wrenching Polish music and realised our German sense of guilt and muteness (where had all our folk songs gone?) We thought multiculturalism was the answer as we wrestled with the legacies bestowed by our inheritance of genocide.

In 1994 I worked with a group of young South Africans who courageously battled to make sense of their “new” South African identities. Shortly afterwards I left for South Africa, and a six-month sojourn turned into a life on the African continent when I met my Zimbabwean life-partner Webster in 1998. For several years I witnessed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a public commission formed to investigate the crimes of apartheid, take victims‟ testimony, and grant amnesty to perpetrators. I listened to story after story of the brutality waged by white on black, the perversions of the colonial quest and the grotesque cruelty that accompanied it. Stories emerged of human bodies grilled on a charcoal fire to erase the remains, while white policemen held a party next to the burning human flesh.

Bearing witness to the TRC merged with my entangledness in German history, the Third Reich, Holocaust memory, connecting the stories of Nazism and apartheid. I witnessed the South African experience of apartheid jointly with a Jewish friend, the daughter of a survivor who had fled Germany in 1938. We embarked on the long painful journey of building a genuine friendship in the face of our shared history of dehumanisation.

I was literally turned inside out by this experience of witnessing. It was a different kind of acculturation – delving into the darker possibilities of what it meant to be human. The TRC gave a taste of the immensity of the crimes of colonialism, inflicted by humans on humans in the name of the dogma of difference and the imagination of superiority and inferiority. As I raise my three children in the post-apartheid city of Cape Town, I experience life as a continuous process of disintegrating and becoming at the same time. I seek to engage my complicity in the post-colony, which not just incidentally houses the German school that my children attend, founded in 1883 at the beginning of the shortlived German colonial quest. At the same time I sense that – through witnessing and participating – I was, and still am, emerging into a fuller personhood as well.

But what does all this have to do with our search for transhumanity?

Exploring transhumanity

In our conversations at Café Duddel in Cologne, we brought our two stories into conversation. It was only then that the concept of Heimat as an internal place emerged. Who we are and our role in the here and now, as well as our connection to life, no longer needs to be bound to one place and time, to one identity defined by external structures – passports, birth certificates, rules, socialisation, upbringing and history. It can be an internal place, an “I” comprised of multi-identities and multi-experiences, producing a web of interconnectedness that offers the hold that former external, fixed identities once provided.

This emerging bigger “I” no longer holds on to preconceived notions of self; to reality constructs internalised over time. Rather, this new multi-I constantly creates a reality based in the here and now and is able to do so even in the face of seemingly immovable, fixed structural realities, such the limited kinds of belonging granted in Germany through “integration”, and post-apartheid‟s stark continuities of exclusion.

So how does this new multi-I connect with the greater whole? How does it function beyond the individual and transcend structures of former selves (that are also emotionally bound and repetitive)?

If one begins with the premise that any individual represents her or his own culture, then any form of human communication can be deemed to be intercultural communication. But this form of intercultural communication as it developed in the past, was linked to “the idea of intercultural communication, which is usually centred on at least one actor having the competency to partially use the codes of the other” in order to create “a strategic (intercultural) engagement with one another”2. In this case, the communication is strategic; it is, in a sense, fundamentally confrontational because it pits one reality against another. The learning of cultural norms is a tool to facilitate the implementation of one personal reality, often at the expense of other possibilities.

But this stance cannot hold its ground in the face of fluidity as an experience. Indeed, even when I met Naima as a woman with brown skin, knowing that she grew up in South Africa, it did not mean that I had any idea which significant values, philosophies and beliefs shaped her thoughts and actions. She grew up Afrikaans-speaking, was adopted onto a white farm, had

2 Wohlfahrt and Zaumseil 2006, p. 52



Christian parents, and yet her main influence was her grandfather, who transmitted critical values of his African spirituality to her. Yet do I have a clue how she will act in a given situation? Even knowing each other‟s biographies and sharing the significant influences in our lives, I still have to count on today‟s constellation of people and events opening up a new range of totally unexpected options for our (inter)actions. Cameroonian anthropologist Francis Njamnjoh (2002, 114) has defined culture as a dynamic set of factors enabling a sense of belonging:

Culture is the whole repertoire of action, language and styles which enables a person to recognise their belonging to a given social group and to identify with the group in question, without necessarily being confined by it.3

Importantly for the move we seek to take the reader on from the domain of the inter-cultural to the idea of transhumanity, Njamnjoh rejects any predetermination and defines culture as a constant creative act:

Culture and tradition, however, are not frozen or stagnant; the individuals and groups partaking of any culture actively shape and reshape it in their daily endeavours.

Culture changes because it is enmeshed in the turbulence of history, and because each act, each signification, each decision risks opening new meanings, vistas and possibilities (our emphasis).4

Reading Njamnjoh‟s stance on the possibility of the single transformational human act moves us to the idea of transhumanity, in which ultimately, my inner attitude makes all the difference. In transcultural communication, I expect that whatever I speculate at first about the origin, upbringing and influences of my counterpart, may be wrong. Everything can be entirely different to what I had anticipated. I let go of worrying about whether I “read” you right, of my need to control the communication. Still, even if we are able to predict so little of one another, our communication can be experienced as successful, inspiring and authentic by both of us.

The way we use the term transhumanity is decidedly different to the definition that thinks about humans becoming super (trans) human through the use of technology and science. Rather than striving to become something more than human, or acquire superhuman strength by technical means, our use of the term transhumanity signifies the striving to become more fully human. We envision how, as humans, we can realize the potential of our inherent interconnectivity to its fullest and, hence, be able to live peacefully in diversity. The „trans-‟ in our reading of transhumanity relates to the idea of re-connecting to a deep unity at the heart of humanity which allows us to fulfill our potential, collectively and as individuals.

3 Nyamnjoh, 2002, p. 114

4 Ibid.

Transhumanity works with the idea of culture as one potential site and source of creativity and innovation. The German language offers the word Haltung; the translation is often “attitude”, which does not quite capture the depth of the word that literally means “inner holding”. In our understanding, this refers to an inward-focused holding rather than just a bodily posture; a holding from the inside out. Depending on my “inner holding”, culture may retain or transcend its role as a marker of difference. I might be making use of culturally framed practices, but exploring the conscious by connecting to a fundamental unity of existence. In the South African context, this experience is often framed through the idea and philosophy of “ubuntu”. The Zulu”proverb umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu conveys that a person is a person through another person. I am because you are. I am through you and you are through me. Whatever you do to me, you are doing to yourself. Whatever I do to you, I am doing to myself. We are One.

What does this mean for communication – intercultural, transcultural, transhuman?

The attitude or ”inner holding” needed to make ubuntu a lived practice is one of letting go, perhaps closest to the Buddhist idea of letting go into Not-Knowing, as sketched by mindfulness teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who writes:

In Buddhism, knowledge is regarded as an obstacle to understanding, like a block of ice that obstructs water from flowing. It is said that if we take one thing to be the truth and cling to it, even if truth itself comes in person to knock at our door, we won‟t open it.

For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.5

Unlike intercultural communication, where I try to learn as much as I can about the “other” (if not “Other”) so that I can interpret actions “correctly” and anticipate behaviours – in transhumanity, I let go of all that pressure. I do not need to “understand”. I also do not need to recognise “correctly” what the other “wants”, but rather, I focus on my own intention as one that can serve both of us as well as a greater good. In the so-called West, this is often seen as a contradiction to achieving goals. Either you advance yourself at my cost or, if I do not advance my interest at the expense of yours, I am left behind. Hence, I need to “figure you out” before you can “figure me out”, and I undergo intercultural training in order to understand better. The intent of such understanding remains bound by the binary of separation of self and other.

Part of the experience of transhumanity is believing that “you” and “I” can both fully realise our potential, and this will enhance both our lives. Thus, I take away the pressure that, strategically, I need to get the other to “do something” that then serves my plans, interests and aims. Instead, I allow myself to go on an adventure trail of communication and relationship- building, where neither I nor my counterpart knows the exact path or the mode of travel to get to the destination. Nonetheless, we have the power to create common ground and attempt, together, to develop a shared image of where we want to go. The intent of enhancing our mutual realities in a concrete way remains the core driver for this form of engagement which, most often, happens in the form of conversation.

5 Thich Nhat Hanh Being Peace, 2005

This does not simply mean “being nice” or seeking only harmony in the interaction; transhumanity does not shy away from honesty and conflict. It does not hold simplistic or romanticist notions that buy into the preferred neoliberal explanations for difference, as Boler and Zembylas lay out:

  1. 1)  The celebration/tolerance model: Every individual is different. We should respect and honour everyone‟s difference equally… This is benign multiculturalism but fails to address power… Differences that reflect the norms of the dominant culture do not require protection and are not seen as hurting others.
  2. 2)  The denial/sameness model: We are all the same underneath the skin. Why do we have to pay so much attention to difference?…Those who subscribe to “we are all the same” embrace – however unconsciously – a commitment to assimilation. This approach reflects the dominant culture‟s privileged capacity to decide when and why differences are important.
  3. 3)  Some differences are innate. Fear of difference is a natural response. (Here] fear should be understood as a fundamental feature of being human. This embrace of biological explanation denies a more sophisticated understanding of the ways in which power allows certain groups to use their fear as justification for the oppression of other groups.6

Transhumanity seeks a kind communication process from within, with the intent of constructive new social spaces, new lived realities. It is a process of personal responsibility and interconnectedness, a process of consciously connecting to the great potential which lies at the heart of humanity.

The image of a positive outcome to the interaction remains an important and intuitive compass. Transhumanity then evolves inside as a moment of clarity of what we both can co- create and make possible through our interaction. Part of this creation is the inner attitude and the trust that all limits and barriers can be transcended, and that we can co-create new realities, even if our cultural realms are bound to one another by a long history of cruel and hegemonic relations. Each small interaction is thus also an act of healing and transforming age-old ways of relating, which wield their destructive powers across generations. In this new reality, all may belong, and all also are responsible for what transpires within this new transhuman space.

However, the possibility exists that my shadow sides and ego drives – for example, feelings such as jealousy, insecurity, inferiority, fear, greed and territoriality – may start guiding my intention, destroying the possibility of transhumanity as a practice. The positive intention from which my inner attitude springs is not a given; rather, it requires rigorous practice.

6 Boler and Zembylas, 2003, pp.112-114

Neither does it necessarily remain steady, once reached.

Transhumanity is about daring to enter and stay in a potential place of discomfort, acknowledging it, engaging with it and seeing the potential for co- transformation in directions which might be unexpected and yet prove to be positive nonetheless. Ubuntu is an essence, but never simplistic; it is always about facing my own shadow in and through “you”. Can I wrestle with, embrace and discipline my own shadow? Can you be in that process with me? Transhumanity is about staying present in my own projections (as well as holding that I am being subjected to yours); it means holding the discomfort and irritation, and striving for a release of old patterns of both perceptions and emotions. The transhuman experience points to a process of enhanced consciousness, a dynamic that constantly renews itself from within, and whose renewal requires continuous focus and the constant act of bringing positive intention into consciousness. Transhumanity is, so to speak, a meditative way of being.

How does transhumanity work in practice?

The Linguistic Aspect (Zena-Gabrielle in Germany, 2011)

During the process of learning German consciously as an adult, I noticed that my perception filter of reality shifted when I spoke German. Things became more solid all of a sudden. An airplane, or Flugzeug, is a flying thing, a bicycle or Fahrrad, a wheel that goes. Word meanings for many aspects of physical reality are literal and not semantic in German, as they were in my two mother tongues.

At the same time, this possibility of categorisation opened up a whole new world of descriptors for internal goings-on in the conscious and unconscious realms of the human psyche, offering me new worlds of meaning in the areas of psychology and philosophy. Philosophy and psychology, which had often been long-winded and inappropriate reflections of my own experience in English and French, suddenly became significant and clear to me in German.

Playing “I Spy” with my daughters created a similar effect on a visual level: “I spy yellow!” and suddenly yellow manifested itself. Or I released the filters which previously had not allowed me to see all the yellow in my field of vision. In German, ever the literal language, this game is known as Ich sehe was, was Du nicht siehst – “I see things that you do not see”.

The linguistic process runs similarly. The realities which emerge shift depending on the language I speak. This phenomenon happens with accents or dialects as well. Hearing one of my creative-writing participants, a Mexican-American named Carlos, describe the process of making a corn tortilla from scratch in his English, is not the same as having my mother describe making a corn tortilla – even if my mother were to use the same words.

It was after I had learnt German well enough to communicate that I consciously began to perceive languages and cultures as textured vibrations or resonances very similar to music, colours, emotions or smell. Each variation had a particular pitch and vibration which I perceived as a feeling first and then as a sound. And there was a place beyond language. It is this place beyond language and beyond culture which formed the potential for transhumanity. This place allowed for different manifestations of interconnectedness and opened options of weaving new levels of connection and meaning to being human.

The Role of Memory (Undine in South Africa, 2011)

Something similar happened to me in South Africa after listening to the stories of human pain at the TRC and at the Healing of Memories dialogues. The stories of the pain apartheid caused were highly individual and, yet, they merged into a matrix of memories inside me that allowed me to see the landscape of post-apartheid human interactions with a new set of adaptable, changing lenses. As the witness, I saw and felt in my body the tearing realities of “apart” – “heid”7, of what it meant to make our seeming separateness the central focus of reality creation. This was the case, not only during 60 years of apartheid, but driving several centuries of colonial conquest and subjugation of “others”.

Suddenly, a lot of the seemingly “irrational” reactions I experienced, the quick angers, the sudden withdrawals from communication where the eye goes dull and the person is gone (though physically still here) made sense to me. These were reactions brought about by concrete memories that were triggered in the conversation, by a gesture, a way of intonation or breathing, by the colour of my hair representing the hated blonde of white-ness. An image suddenly entered the mind (as filters were released or restored) and became a reminder of all that had not changed, of past pains. It was often incomprehensible to the others in the conversation. But I could literally see how a painful memory had crept into the communication, intercepted it and thrown one person into a different reality and time zone, literally into the past, and the possibility of transhuman communication shut down in that instant because the focus on the here and now was emotionally no longer possible.

A different emotional labour was required in such moments; a willingness to be awake and present to the other‟s pain in face of my inability to feel it and to dissolve it. We are called to walk with each other through pain in that moment, so as to enable transhumanity once more. This made me think that transhumanity is perhaps an always fleeting moment that needs to be acquired – both eased into and struggled for depending on the situation – but that cannot ever be demanded or engineered to “make it happen”.

Local and Global Simultaneities (Zena-Gabrielle in Germany, 2011)

Yesterday my friend and colleague Bop shared a recent experience he‟d had with me. “People who integrate these days don‟t integrate at a country or community level only. When I was in Cameroon last week, I realised that my cousins who are around 10 or 13 or so are all on Facebook. They are connected with people all over the world. I just couldn‟t believe it! They don‟t have the same notion of national barriers as I do. Their idea of barriers is much more fluid than ours. After observing them, it really got to me, I mean, I really sensed this, that the traditional concepts and structures, whether they be governmental, physical, social, national, political or economic are crumbling. It is one thing to read about this process somewhere, and quite another to be somewhere where you actually feel it. I could literally feel the crumbling in Cameroon, where the events in North Africa are much more palpable than they are here in Germany, at least for now. Integration isn‟t just a local process anymore; it is local and global at the same time. I am not only integrating myself in Germany, I am integrating myself into a greater Whole.”

7 Apartheid in the Afrikaans language literally mean “being separate”

I had to agree. The people I knew integrating themselves here in Germany, in Botswana, South Africa, the US, or in China, among other places, were not integrating themselves only into a country or one place. Through the networks formed by present-day methods of communication, they simultaneously live in several places and times in physical and in virtual realities. And yet many share the experience of simultaneously becoming part of a greater Whole, sensing a new connection emerging that cuts across the globe. It is precisely this simultaneity of experience and of identity that I had been trying to express for some time. Transhumanity, in virtuality, can at times create more coherent spaces than the energies that are created by physical togetherness, which often leads to a focus on separation, funnily enough, as we wrestle with our familiar histories, patterns and varieties of projections, hopes and hurts in our relationships.

Being of many places and times (Undine in South Africa, 2011)

In South Africa, the experience of being “of many places” and “of many times” is a familiar one. Patric Tariq Mellet recently pointed out the need for opening a discourse on identity that departs from the paradigms of race and ethnicity8. Many South Africans are today reclaiming their plural heritage and hybrid ancestry, embracing the contradictions of slave mothers and slavemaster fathers, of the Muslim, Christian, Orthodox, Jewish, Animist and Pantheist belief systems that merged into them. My friend and colleague Rubert van Blerk reflected on reading a draft of this article: “Hailing from a Cape-Coloured experience, I suppose I reveal my multiple identities so much more easily as I carry it on my skin. For a long time this was a source of agony as it was harder to retreat into a single homogenous sense of self. It is tough when your father and sister really do not look like you. But actually, if we get below skin level, there is so much difference and richness. I love the idea that I have heritage roots that stretch into different corners of our world – Africa, Asia and Europe. The idea of transhumanity takes us to deeper and better places”.

In response to Rubert‟s words appearing on the screen of my phone, I think of my own children and their grapplings with the projections that their brown skin and beautiful curls evoke in others. The debates we have about why they do not look like Mummy or Barbie. Why frizzy hair is gorgeous, no matter what Lisa or Liv at school may think. Recently, someone said to my daughter Mudiwa: “You are a coloured.” – She replied in an instant: “I am not coloured. I am Afro-German.” I felt a surge of excitement at her seizing the powers of self-definition: Make it up as you go along, girl. Create moments of transhumanity.

What might the emerging transhuman realities look and feel like?

Zena Gabrielle in Germany, 2011

The static identity model simply does not fit into my realms of experience. I live multi-identities, and I experience them simultaneously. To say that I am always the same person would not be accurate. The realms of my experience spring from a single source, and yet each of these experiences is unique and an entity unto itself, something like the fingers which extend from my palm. Together they form my hand, and yet the index finger and the ring finger are separate entities. They are one unit and distinct at the same time, and their individual functions influence every other part of my body, as well as my environment: without my fingers I would not be typing these words.

8 Patric Tariq Mellet, 2010

This image extends to every level of my being. I experience cultures, people, the physical, my own very conscious body, and languages as the branches of a single tree. I am aware of my connection to the plant next to me, of the table I am writing on, of the air I am breathing and the sky above me while simultaneously experiencing our distinctness. The experience of distinct separation was one which never resonated with me, and I felt out of focus in this reality from the time I was a child. Following the idea of transhumanity, daily activities such as speaking different languages in different realities and the elimination of distance and time through Skyping and the internet serve as an example of the simultaneous multiplicity of identity nonetheless tied in to ONE (shared) experience.

A day in the life of a Transhuman9

6 am. Wake up. Greet the day. Meditate. 7 am. Wake the girls up, prepare for school, breakfast ritual. 7:50 am. Take the girls to school. Una pequeña conversación con Liliana porque tengo preguntas para la fiesta. Shekire fragen wie die Hochzeit ihrer Cousine war. 8:20. Bini sur mon portable. «Alors, t‟as lu mon concepte?» I go home for breakfast. I have to go over some concepts for my creative writing workshop that I‟m giving this afternoon. 9 am. Ethiopian Coffee, Brötchen mit Ei with berbere, OJ. The computer‟s on. Internet research has begun. 9:40 am. Skype with my brother Ze, who‟s working in Azerbaijan for a few months. 10 am. Skype with Undine in Cape Town. 10:15 am. Sign petitions for women‟s rights and for social change on, sign a petition against whaling through Greenpeace, sign a petition against the areal hunting of wolves in Alaska through the Wilderness Organisation. 10:20 am. Facebook and Twitter – friends from every continent update me every couple of minutes about their daily doings. Brenda‟s just about to go to sleep in Washington, DC. James is already living tomorrow in Australia. Meemz doesn‟t like honey in her milk in Washington, DC. Tommy just farted in London. 10:30 am. I go to the copy shop. Sohrab helps me print my documents. Tashakür. 10:50 am. I have to go shopping. On the way to Netto, I meet Biruk. We greet each other Ethio-style with three cheek kisses. “Indeminesh?” How are you? “Lijoch dehena nachu?” “Ow, igzyer emeskin.” I promise I‟ll e-mail. We kiss again. 11 am. I continue on to the organic market. I realise I don‟t have my debit card. Looking into my wallet, I count exactly 24 euros. When I‟ve bought everything I need, I walk to the cash register. Oh good, Maria from Columbia‟s at register 1. “Yo tengo solamente 24 euros,” I tell her. She scans the items until she reaches my 24 euro limit. She puts the batteries I won‟t be buying this time under the register. A strongly-built woman standing behind me exclaims in English “But I think she wanned to buy those!” Accent: US, Midwest. “Na, I just I have 24 euros,” I tell her with a smile. 11:30 am. I pack everything into my basket, then unpack the basket when I get home. 11:45. Lunch. Bread with Ajvar and an Apfelschorle. 12 pm. I head to the Kölner Freiwiligen Agentur, unpack my materials for the creative-writing workshop, ask my Source for a blessing. 1 pm to 5 pm. The workshop runs well. As with every moment in my life, it would take pages to describe the past few hours in words. 5:45 pm. I get to our building. The girls are waiting for me at Jessi‟s, who invites us to eat with her. Fried tofu with basmati rice, a salad and water. 7 pm. «Vous venez les filles? » We go back down to our apartment, where we play music, sing and dance together. 8 pm. «On se brosse les dents! » It‟s time to go to sleep. We read Tintenherz. Our good night songs are in French and Québécois. 8:45 pm. The girls are asleep. I listen to them breathe. 9 pm. Bini and Hanna stop by. Hanna tells us about her trip to Ghana. Bini is planning to travel to Liège over the weekend. 10 pm. Bini and Hanna leave. I prepare myself for tomorrow. 10:30 pm. Meditation. 11:30 pm. Bed.

9 Adapted from “Transhuman Dialogs – Reflektionen über Heimate(n)/Zena-Gabrielle Hailu and Thomas Dahl, a reading for the Intercultural Week Cologne 2010.

The expanding nature of identity, the multi-I-dentitied Me is increasingly becoming a reality, especially for those who migrate, spend long periods in various countries and build lives in multiple transnational and -cultural spaces. Perhaps it has long been a reality that we are rediscovering, as in South Africa‟s (not quite post-) colonial self-reflections and mirrorings. Transhumanity then dissolves the idea of just being mobile and the illusion of a return to only one anchored reality. In the transhuman sphere, life is experienced as a simultaneous living of several lives, which in the past have been distinct through the dualistic structure of reality, but which now can be seen as one life, one experience lived out in different ways.


The act of letting go, which forms the essence of transhumanity, need not be a scary process. When considered from a dualistic reality construct, transhumanity seems to lead to a perceived nothingness. From the standpoint of the emerging paradigm of the fundamental unity of existence, however, the letting-go is a fundamental catalyst towards the emergence of possibility, or allowing to see that which unifies us while still acknowledging our individual and dynamic manifestations. The letting-go then is giving permission to step into our unifying aspects, even while feeling bound to structural (emotionally manifested10) realities. This means that transhumanity does not shy away from the uncomfortable situations, which arise from engaging with structural and cultural violence, with inequity and exclusion executed in the name of “difference”, plastered over by pleas of comforting “tolerance of diversity” that ends the moment the beggar touches my arm, urges me to turn around to face him, to touch her, to be present to another reality that I fear. Transhumanity is precisely about daring to enter and about staying in that potential place of discomfort, acknowledging it, engaging with it and seeing the potential for co- transformation in directions which might be unexpected and yet, prove to be developing us into fuller human beings .

Whereas ubuntu is, in itself, the essence of humanity in action, transhumanity requires practice. It is perhaps the dance between imagination and action that manifests ubuntu as it lives within and between us. It requires discipline, rigour, awareness and commitment, at once a connection to self, to you, and beyond to the environs, upward, downward, forward, backward, sideways and always inward. Otto Scharmer‟s idea of moving from “egosystem to ecosystems awareness”11 strongly resonates with us. Transhumanity, when learnt and lived with positive intent, that is to say, with an intent that seeks the good of all and which chooses not to act with an intent springing from negative emotions is the process that leads to the emergence of a holistic, co-created reality. It asks us for a conscious mode of communication that resonates with the present world in which we are ever more connected and yet less present. It is a process from within, which has as intent the constructive creation of new social spaces, new lived realities materialising from this collective focus. It is a process of the personal as social, political and moral responsibility, and of activating interconnectedness, a process of unlocking the potential for shared peace and prosperity which lies at the heart of humanity.

10 Raymond Williams actually speaks of “structures of feeling”. See also Undine Kayser-Whande, 2005: 128. 11 See

Steve Biko still leads us today with his courage to live and die for that very dream:

We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere on the horizon, we can see the glittering prize.12

12 Steve Biko, 1987 [1978]


Biko, Steve 1946-1977 I write what I like. Johannesburg, Oxford, Heinemann, 1987 [1978]

Boler, Megan and Zembylas, Michalinos: Discomforting Truths: The Emotional Terrain of Understanding Difference In: P. Trifonas (Ed.) Pedagogies of difference: rethinking education for social change. New York, Routledge, 2003, pp. 110-135

Hailu, Zena-Gabrielle, “Diaries of a Transhuman”, Excerpts (2010, unpublished).

Hailu, Zena-Gabrielle and Dahl, Thomas, “Transhuman Dialogs – Reflektionen über Heimate(n), a reading for the Intercultural Week Cologne 2010.

Kayser-Whande, Undine, “Imagined Communities. Divided Realities. Engaging the Apartheid past through Healing of Memories in a Post-TRC South Africa,” PhD Dissertation, University of Cape Town 2005

Mellet, Patric Tariq (2010) Lenses on Cape Identities. Exploring Roots in South Africa. Dibanisa Publishing

Nyamnjoh, Francis (2002) “A Child is One Person‟s Only in the Womb: Domestication, Agency and Subjectivity in the Cameroonian Grassfields.” In: Werbner, R.
Postcolonial Subjectivities. London: Zed, pp. 111-139.

Scharmer, C. Otto, “From Egosystems to Ecosystems Awareness.” Presentation available on, downloaded 2 March 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, Parallax Press, 2005

Wohlfahrt, Ernestine and Zaumseil, Manfred (2006) Transkulturelle Psychatrie – Interkulturelle Psyhcotherapie: interdisziplinäre Theorie und Praxis, Springer Verlag.

Intercultural Transcultural Transhuman_Connectivity_HailuWhande