Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there’s no countries.
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for,
And no religion too.
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.
You may say I’m a dreamer,
But I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us,
And the world will be as one.
If you like these lyrics, you’re most likely to be young, progressive and/or a Westerner. A video of the song begins with John and Yoko walking through a misty woods towards an elegant mansion. Above the door, there’s a sign, “THERE IS NO HERE,” a clear reference to Thomas More’s Utopia, which literally means “no place.” Whereas More was being satirical, Lennon sang “Imagine” quite earnestly, and his admirers see it as an ideal. Considering how things are going in the West, they feel closer to this goal of having no countries than ever. Borders are bad, and nationalism is just another word for Fascism, they believe.
Ensconced in his sumptuous Tittenhurst Park estate, Lennon crooned, “Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can.” No, I can’t, John. Mi casa es tu casa is just a figure of speech, amigo. Interviewed by National Public Radio in 2006, Jimmy Carter actually claimed, “And of course, as you know, in many countries around the world—my wife and I have visited about 125 countries—you hear John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ used almost equally with national anthems.”
There is a 2004 film, It’ll Never Last, that’s about three British women with foreign husbands. Aristocratic Alexandra Tolstoy fell in love with a Muslim horseman while on a ten-month trip along the Silk Road. After the wedding, she moved into his grim, Soviet-era apartment on the outskirts of Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
Patricia from Belfast married Tiziano and moved to Rimini, Italy.
Oxford-graduate Gemma Burford married a Massai warrior and moved into a rural house without running water or electricity in Tanzania.
If differences between countries were merely cosmetic and trivial, for we’re all the same, after all, these women should have been able to adjust well enough to their new environments, but none of these marriages lasted, and the first one to call it quit, even before the film ended, was Patricia. One might think that this is rather surprisingly, for she didn’t move into that foreign a culture, but of course all societies are alien to any other, and that’s why we have 196 countries, with each subdivided even further. Just as Idaho is not Mississippi, your average Bavarian wouldn’t want to move to Saxony.
Language isn’t just communication but a shared heritage, so if you can’t quite master a new tongue, you don’t quite belong in that community. At her wedding, Patricia pronounced anello [ring] as agnello [lamb], which cracked up the entire church, then at home, Tiziano started to carp about her cooking, and after dinner, he would go to his mama’s house for coffee and only return around 11.
Patricia had become drawn to Italians through the movies, “If I watched a foreign film or something, I liked the tall, dark man with the dark eyes, like Italian people. I just liked someone who was different from myself.” After the breakup, she reflected, “When I look at my wedding video, I just think I was so stupid, so very stupid. So naive.”
Tolstoy could talk to her man in Russian, and she swooned over his boldness, fearlessness and how he rode, so erect and shirtless, on a mare. Shamil also knew Alexandra was destined for him, “For example, I can tell straight away if a horse is right for me.” Bucking the Uzbek just five years later, this perfect horse is now shacked up with Sergei Pugachev, a Russian tycoon. They spend most of their time on the French Riviera.
Tolstoy claims that Putin wants to kill both her and Pugachev, while the Russian government has charged the former banker and shipyard owner with embezzlement. Sheltering Pugachev, France won’t turn him over, however, just as Russia won’t let Uncle Sam snatch Edward Snowden. Countries will always disagree, of course. Nine men, ten opinions. Before the Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo died in custody, Germany had offered him asylum.
Gemma Burford and her Masai beau, Lesikar, fell in love without even a common language, and there were other obstacles, such as the Masai tradition of polygamy. Filmed with several flies buzzing or landing on his face, Lesikar’s dad explained, “I spoke with Gemma’s parents. I said to them I would only agree to the marriage if Gemma would accept the possibility of Lesikar taking another wife.”
For his part, Lesikar was convinced he had found a right mate, “Finding a good wife is as hard as finding good cattle. It’s a matter of luck.”
Gemma’s affable dad recounted his first visit to Tanzania, “That trip was an eye opener. Up to the village, it was horrific, to be honest.” Then, “Most countries, you can talk about things, and people will know what you’re talking about, but there, of course, there was very little you could talk about that you had a common knowledge of, let alone a common interest.”
Still, Mr. Burford came round to embracing his son-in-law, thanks in part to Lesikar’s visit to England, “When he came over, he came dressed as a Masai warrior, with his blankets and his shoes, which are made out of rubber tires, and he also had his great, big 14-inch knife that he had at his side.
“Once he settled in at home, he was fine. The problem comes in trying to feed him. He only eats beef and lamb or goat. They don’t eat anything else. They eat vegetables. They don’t eat any sweet things. They don’t have cakes or anything.
“We were quite surprised at how quickly he picked up things, how bright he was. The thing that strikes you with Lesikar is his smile. The room lights up when Lesikar smiles. Everyone falls for that. He really is a very nice chap, but also very intelligent, we’re beginning to find.”
Lesikar, “The things I missed most were my cows and my family. I didn’t like the food. Although my mother-in-law tried very, very hard to make it tasty, the meat tasted like paper.”
Lesikar was glad to return to his Masai ways, with Gemma joining him. Without resolving the polygamy issue, they wedded after she got pregnant. There is a scene of her doing laundry outside, using a plastic tub, “Yeah, I do feel at home here. I don’t feel as at home here as I want to. I think the more I live here, the more I will feel at home here […] A lot of people say it all the time, and even here, they say, ‘Ah, you’ll never cope, you’ll never cope.’ Just watch me. OK, I’ll put you on the guest list for our silver wedding, God willing.”
Gemma’s dad had a concern, “I think the one thing with the difference in culture is the worry that the women are regarded, not inferior, but they have their jobs, and the men have their jobs, and the women’s jobs are all the manual work, and the men’s job is thinking and drinking, and I can’t see Gemma settling for that.”
After giving birth to a daughter, Gemma had to confront the issue of female circumcision, “At the moment, there is no other way… for a girl to become a woman. They believe you can’t have a healthy child if you haven’t been circumcised.”
They moved to Arusha, a city of 400,000, and founded a safari business, but the marriage collapsed in 2010, with Lesikar returning to his family and cows. Gemma wrote in 2017, “Lesikar has moved on and had more children, although he hasn’t quite equalled his father’s record yet.” In the film, Lesikar stated, “I am one of nineteen children. Sorry, I mean seventeen.”
Each of us is already a nationalist via our infinity of affinities. Just as Lesikar belongs to the Masai nation, Gemma has reverted to being an English woman, for she has moved back to the UK with her two daughters.
By marrying and moving into another culture, the women of It’ll Never Last tried their best to join another nation, and their failure to do so illustrates, rather gloriously, that mankind is still diverse. Our differences don’t just reflect our ideals but define our autonomy.
Far from promising peace, those who sing of no countries are really threatening us all with unspeakable violence, psychic and physical.
An empire, by nature, must trample on nationhood, even its own, for it presents the empire’s ambitions as the nation’s necessities, for how else can you get Americans, for example, to go die and fight in Afghanistan or Iraq? Though citing love of nation constantly, our Washington rulers are essentially anti-American, and that’s why a genuine nationalist like Edward Snowden must flee to Russia.
Nationalism is simply the love of one’s language, culture, history and heritage, one’s very identity in short, but as wielded by an empire, nationalism becomes a murderous tool to violate one nation after another. The American empire is destroying the American nation.
Linh Dinh [send him mail] novel Love Like Hate covers Vietnam in the 20th century. His Postcards from the End of America has just been released by Seven Stories Press. He maintains an active photo blog.
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