From Miscommunication Station to Eight-Second Sonic Refuge
By Tesfaye Bekele Beri, Dawit Girma, Hong-Kai Wang, Mihret Kebede
There is a great gap between those who are free to speak and those who are governed into silence. Our bodies simply cannot cross that gap easily, and neither can our tongues. At Jemo Condominium Site II, we do a small exercise: we interview one another as if we were on a radio show, reflecting on our conversation with a family displaced from Piazza.
(A cell phone rings)
Tesfaye Bekele Beri: Mihret, we are in the second minibus.
Dawit Girma: Yes, the second minibus.
HKW: Do you want to talk about how the frequent relocations from one condominium site to another make it very difficult to build trust among neighbours?
DG: The problem with trust at this site is that people here come from different areas. They don’t know each other and even if there is an open space, it is not functioning. The person we talked with needs to reestablish his social life every time he moves. Mihret, do you want to comment on that?
Mihret Kebede: I don’t know what you are talking about.
DG: The lack of trust people have. For instance, how people don’t allow their children to live and play with the community.
MK: They have not known the neighbourhood for a long time. In their previous living situation, they had lived in a neighbourhood for a very long time so they knew they could trust each other. Here everybody is from a different place. People here have no idea who lives next to them.
TB: When you went inside his apartment, I stayed outside. Did you meet his children?
DG: Yes, he has two children.
HKW: We talked to one of them. The girl said she does not play with
the kids from the condominium block. She only plays with her little brother.
MK: Her dad doesn’t trust the neighbourhood enough to let her go outside. And there is no space to play. So he sends her to her grandmother’s house and his friends.
HKW: The daughter said that her schoolmates who live in Jemo I have more communal spaces.
TB: Why did he move to Jemo I from Jemo III?
MK: Because of the high rent.
We have called this constellation a miscommunication station: the politicians, who try to respond to the needs of the society operate top-down. From the outset, this fails to address what is needed on the ground. Yet most people are unable to freely complain and respond to this system. They prefer to be silent as they know the consequences of speaking out.
Caught between fear and desire to speak out, the Jenmo I residents we spoke with expressed discontent with this mode of research. This short conversation was brought to a halt, leading to very little overall benefit for the community. However, we were then engaged in an act of listening, aware that we had contributed to the atmosphere of fear.
We have attempted to sketch out an idea of freedom in the form of radio waves: an ‘eight-second sonic refuge’.
There is only one private radio station in Ethiopia. The rest are government-controlled in one way or another. Radiophonic expressions and transmissions are authorised by the ruling system that we live under. These governmental stations do not operate without restrictions. Journalists who work there have divulged to us that the stations play a trick with programmes that may brush up against any conceivably sensitive subject. They invented an ‘eight-second hold’ tactics during live broadcasts, whether it is an interview with someone influential or a call-in on community issues. They HOLD the transmission for eight seconds before it reaches the audience, so as to fool them into thinking that it is live. If one does the math, can you imagine how many of those eight seconds we have lost altogether? What kind of fragmented temporality are we forced to live in?
Now that we have come to ‘know of’ the particularities of radio — its temporalities, airwaves, sounds, voices and so on — that are lost in nowhere, we want to build an eight-second sonic refuge, where all can feel safe to speak and pronounce eight seconds of freedom.