on shadows

by Keamogetse Mosienyane

I have been thinking a lot about shadows since I left Cape Town and landed in Maun. /As my breath kissed the window/1 on the plane, my eyes fixated on the dispersed clouds, sitting individually in the sky, waiting to sing the choir song of the day. My eyes shifted from the clouds down to the ground. I saw dark patches on the ground, and I concluded that the patches must be the Okavango

green patches that one sees from aerial shots in documentaries and maps. Upon further fixation, it turned out that the patches were shadows left by the clouds.

A shadow is described as a shape that forms on a surface when something stands between light and the surface. The stand in between here being the clouds, the shape formed being the dark patches of shade on the ground that I saw from the plane. This imagery lingered in my thoughts,

Another literal reading of the word shadow follows that “a shadow is a dark area where light from a light source is blocked by an opaque object” (Cooke and Howard, 2014), a non-transparent object. As my body is suspended in the air in flight, I reflect on non-transparency and the dark tracks left on the ground, shapes forming taking on their own unique trajectories.

A few hours later, after finally meeting everyone, on the safari truck, Emeka mentions that he has noticed how most structures, from small scale economic infrastructures such as mobile tuck-shops, haircut stations to outdoor church services are often anchored to trees and their shadows. By following shadows, literal and otherwise, we encounter textures, both known and unknown that ground us to “accept the impossibility of complete and comprehensive knowing” (Malakai Greiner, 2019). The metaphor of shadows allows us to contend with non-transparency as Africans on this process, where the opacity is not an obstacle but rather situates us, asks for refusal against singular and
pre-determined narratives while also contending with the displacement and dissonance of life in geographies where mass extraction takes place. To tell time on this trip has meant that we also follow the shadows and their subsequent types. Most of our activities were scheduled during the day and we would often find people sitting under a tree, or a built structure in the shade. The look the people gave us when we arrived at Tsodilo Hills at noon was that of utter shock and disappointment. It felt like we went against the time of the land, where day shadows spatialise into rest, care and social ecologies. People collaborate with the shadow to cool off and shield themselves from the sun during the day. How people tend to shadows is a temporal practice.


1. Greiner, Malakai. “Voids of Understanding: Opacity, Black Life, and Abstraction in What
Remains.” Voids of Understanding: Opacity, Black Life, and Abstraction in What Remains,
2. Miriam Webster Dictionary, 2022
3. Cooke, Vivian and Howard, Colin. Practical Ideas for Teaching Primary Science. Critical
Publishing, 2014.
© 2022 Invisible Borders. All right reserved.