The Mara Crossing

One of the most interesting reads of this course was the book The Mara Crossing by Ruth Padel. What made it so interesting to me was the blending of verse and prose. As previously stated in other blog posts, analyzing poetry is not my strong suit and I prefer a more straight-forward approach to what I’m reading. This book made is easy to understand and gain a new appreciation for the poetry I was reading because she provided context to her poems in the chapter beforehand. So what struck me was her in-depth explanations of biology and then a creative approach in her poetry. So I was already attracted to the book because of its structure and then I started reading.

This entire book is about migration, but isn’t limited to animal migration- she talks about insects and humans as well. The whole world is in a constant state of migration, either by people or by animals and it provided fantastic connections to Englishness and London as a whole better than I could have imagined, but more on that later… The Mara River is a river in Mara Region in Tanzania and Narok County in Kenya and provides vital nutrients and food to the nearby grazing animals.

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From the chapter “There is Always a River” in her book, Padel states,

From a parked jeep on a riverbank in Kenya I saw a scene which summed up for me the unstoppable pull of migration. It was early morning, the air still cool. The sun had only just got up. Below was the Mara River, the end of the animals’ journey. Northing stirred- then three absurdly delicate Thomson’s gazelles, a buck and two does, arrived. They stopped on a flat stretch of shore and stared at the shining water. The river drew them. They could hardly bear to glance away to check for lions. I had some to Kenya to see one of the wonders of the world- a million and a half wildebeest, 300,000 Burchell’s zebra (Plains zebra) and 50,000 of these gazelles, finishing their annual trek.

This moment is amazing because these animals have trekked thousands of miles and now this is their last obstacle before the end of their journey. While this is a hard obstacle to overcome, those that survive will have reached the reason for their journey. This migration is visible in all living forms– we all know that birds migrate to the south for the winter, we, as humans, migrate to our jobs everyday, we move to different places, both legally and illegally. What we don’t realize is that we are in a constant state of fluidity and flux. Like the birds and wildebeests, we are constantly changing and moving to what matches our needs. We are like the river in that we are never the same person twice in our lives. Our skin and cells are constantly reproducing and emotionally, physically, mentally we are never the same people year after year.

What drew the strongest connection for me was the last chapter in The Mara Crossing, “The Wanderings of Psyche”. Padel goes through the entire book starting with the migration of cells to that of birds and insects to emigration and immigration and she brings it all back in the end and connects everything. It’s the beauty of her writing that can take us from biology in the first chapter all the way to the human psyche in the last. But what stuck with me the most was the last paragraph of the last chapter on page 245. She says,

This modest place embodies Britain over the centuries as a place of sanctuary and new life. It tells the story of a house, a parish and a city whose walls, as we know, were built by immigrants. Very quietly, it shows how multicultural Britain- and every modern, multilayered society- was made, just as the world was made, by migration.

This idea is so important because in my journal entries for the other class, I have emphasized the multicultural universe that exists inside London. We have the layering of the old and the new in terms of architecture, we have the existence of heterotopic spaces with the cemeteries and museums, and we have the multilayering of national identity in how the city is put together. No place is purely one thing because it takes inspiration and pieces from different countries and different people. The idea of migration is so important because it’s not just a physical idea, it’s mental and emotional. Ideas migrate, words migrate, thoughts migrate. We live in a world of different cultures and different people, nothing is pure. And this defines Englishness and, even more specifically, Londonness because it is just a cultural, historical, mythical place that spans from the idea of migration.

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House of Flags: an installation celebrating multicultural London

House of Flags: an installation celebrating multicultural London

“Everyday is a journey and the journey itself is home”

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One thought on “The Mara Crossing

  1. Hey Lauren! I really liked what you wrote about The Mara Crossing. It was one of my favorite books that we read and your post had excellent insight into what it says on transnational identities. You mentioned that everything is in a constant state of migration of some kind or another, whether it’s physical or mental and this, in conjunction with your mention of museums (highly transnational places) made me wonder… Can individual people have a sense of transnational identity without actually physically going to another country? Can intangible, mental global migration (that, for example, might happen in the transnational spatiality of a museum) give people a solid and accurate sense of transnational identity? I would say that in this age of the internet and constant international influences that yes, someone could gain this transnational identity. We all feel international influences in our everyday lives so its like you said, “We are like the river in that we are never the same person twice in our lives”.

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