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“Troubled Waters in Flint: No Hashtags”

By Stephane Dunn | @DrStephaneDunn | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Monday, February 1, 2016.

Trouble in my way, I have to cry sometime

I lay awake at night, but that’s alright;

Jesus will fix it after awhile

--“Trouble in My Way” Clifton Jones


I’ve been worrying over this mortgage and how to keep this roof over our heads and keep the rest going – light, heat, phone and now “unavailable” keeps calling weekends, mornings and days about a bill I already said I’d certainly pay when I can and this doctor said you need to manage the negative stress levels. It’s busy, busy, days working, tending, solving work problems, worrying and thinking and crying --quietly as kept -- cause I have not paused, have not helped, have not spoken, cause right now, big enough words won’t come out of my mouth, and written words kept refusing to fill the blank screen about Flint, Michigan, a place so close to my Midwestern town roots.

Trouble’s in my way at home. Big trouble in everybody’s way in Flint, dirty water and people's faces I don’t know holding poisoned water in regular looking bottles. Once a few years ago when I moved into my just built townhome, a first time home-buyer, the water got turned off unannounced  - morning time before my shower. I waited, it seemed like hours but really about three and half hours and when I turned on the kitchen faucet, brown water came out disturbing my expectation and I called the HOA who said just temporary after some pipe work done.

In Flint, there’s nothing but time, been nothing but time, every hour, every minute, and any second, cooking and body cleaning, and house cleaning and drinking, measured drinking – in a city of poisoned water. Bottled water is good, helps, and God knows necessary when you can’t get clean water period. But it is not clean water running out of the tap down your body.    

It plays in pieces at night when I am still at last, not sleeping and worrying about keeping this house and the water in Flint and wondering how the hell this crime of humanity in the so called USA could happen, like it has before, and why it’s the poor and the overwhelmingly brown who always gotta catch the most hell.

But then my son, six now, who still simplifies the big life stuff into bad or good and struggles to understand the greys I present sometimes, and who has become, through no conscious effort of his, or choice of mine, my own muse and inspiration, unplugs me again and at least there’s this rambling.

I’m home from work finally, on a Tuesday I think, returned to worrying full on about this mortgage and the bills and figuring out what to put together about dinner, and watching the news for that three minutes on the down low while he’s upstairs playing and temporarily not checking to see what’s going on every two seconds downstairs. I’m listening, finding out who’s donated a million bottles now and if the governor has finally done right and stepped down along with his posse of water killing-people poisoning decision makers, and what kind of troubles the lead water will cause the people long after the news headlines, as they always do, turn to the next big scandalous thing.

I don’t hear my son on the steps. I am engrossed listening to this Mama in Flint take her two seconds on the news to speak on living with dirty water and suddenly my son is right in front of the TV and listening and reading the tags across the screen about Flint, bad water and people being sick before I grab the remote and tap and the screen pops to Steve Harvey and Family Feud.

“Nobody can drink the water in Flint, Michigan?” He finds it on his USA map right there on the living room floor. “Who made it dirty, Mommy, bad people? The lady said children are sick from the water. Can they get new water Mommy?

That’s right son, they can’t drink the water; it’s poisoned cause some people took a cheap shortcut. Some people who are in charge in Michigan absolutely committed a crime against humanity.

“What’s a ‘crime against humanity’?”

And that’s why the news watching on the sly mostly and after hours and online, cause if not, it's like when the news was really shining some attention on those still kidnapped Nigerian girls and my son caught that snippet.

“How come the police don’t go and get them back Mommy?”

And then I tried to figure out some kind of impossible simple, less scarier than hell answer, a 099 child’s version of human rights, US foreign politics, and the ways of differing countries  -- that didn’t make any sense to him even if he was able to comprehend foreign policy and country domains and such because when three hundred some defenseless girls of any race in any country can just be kidnapped in a moment – all bets should be off and the global community should just go unapologetically crazy for them, for as long as they’re gone, and fight for those girls and their families living it every day and every minute endlessly in a hell we don’t let ourselves imagine. And my son woke up in the middle of the night a couple of nights after, scared and talking about those girls, and he asks out of nowhere sometimes, ‘Did they find those girls?”

And I cannot ever answer with any sense because it makes as much sense as explaining to him the possibility of a next president being that rich guy named Trump who could in his words, ‘shoot’ somebody and keep all the world’s Muslims out of America and still be beloved by his fans and evidently get many real votes.

I’m worrying over this mortgage and keeping my son in the school that didn’t make me fear for him when I went to work, but there is a crime against humanity in Flint and I do not have the money for a hundred bottles of water, and one twenty dollar case seems so paltry for a city full of people that’s sick in mind and body and a state government that’s corrupt. I know, every little bit helps but a lot helps and everything  -- moral government, pure water filtration, long term medical services, economic health -- is needed.  

When I finish these last rambling words, I will go upstairs, and turn the shower dial to just a tap below the super hot mark. I will stand there under water that looks clear and doesn’t burn, and it will wash the tears on my face, and pour down my back. For a very few minutes, the water warming and soothing my body will bring prayers and songs to mind, and keep slightly at bay my home and Flint and world troubles. Trouble in my way, I have to cry sometime. I lay awake at night . . .

But there is no escaping it, shouldn't be, for me either, until there’s resolution and justice and in the meantime agitation, and some long pausing like I have been needing to do -- just pause, everyday, and pray and be with Flint, cause through all this worrying about the roof over my head, there are the Flint mothers, fathers, grandparents, my Flint folk, some unwell themselves, watching, finally, the US media watching them, watching their children play, getting them ready for school, and tending to their illnesses from the winter cold, and the lead, thankful for bottles of water from P. Diddy and the like, but praying long hours of the day and night and wondering and worrying if, when, and how their children and the troubled water, will truly ever be well again.


Writer and professor Stephane Dunn, PhD, is the director of the Cinema, Television, & Emerging Media Studies program at Morehouse College. She teaches film, creative writing, and literature. She is the author of the 2008 book, Baad Bitches & Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films (U of Illinois Press). Follow her on Twitter: @DrStephaneDunn

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“Troubled Waters in Flint: No Hashtags”

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