Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Africa: The Long Journey Home

Last summer, I was fortunate enough to befriend a group of young men who were visiting the United States on work visas from South Africa. When I introduced them to other friends who were US citizens, my Caucasian friends were very surprised that my South African friends were white. Evidently, they did not know white people lived in Africa. There were other startling discoveries made as the friendships blossomed between me and as I called them, “my guys”.

Africa, as a continent, is fascinating. My obsession started when I considered joining the Peace Corps. after I finished my undergrad degree. I had just finished my application with every intention of committing to three years in the Peace Corps., when I decided it wasn’t the right time. However, I’ve always felt drawn to the organization in hope of being sent off to West Africa, which has always had a significant hold over me.

Recently, I met a young man from Morocco (a northwest African country) who speaks FOUR languages and is currently studying in the US. My other African friend from Tunisia, who lives and works in France, holds a prestigious job in Paris. These young men are quite ambitious and “Westernized” in their approach. Their personalities reflect “Western” world attitudes, yet influences from their countries of origin remain intact.

Even without the additions of Westernized influence, Africa is a complex continent. In some areas (particularly Eastern Africa) one would be afraid to enter these countries for fear of leaving in a body bag (Somalia, Chad, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan for example) due to the increased influx of terrorist regimes that have seized power because of corruption at the executive level. However, many areas of Africa are beautiful peaceful sanctuaries from the rest of the crazy world. It continues to amaze me that both extremes exist with startling regularity on the continent. For instance, in 1994, the Hutu government of Rwanda orchestrated genocide against a minority group within its own country. The rest of the world watched as millions were brutally murdered with machetes, bullets, fire, or by any method the government found useful to “EXTERMINATE” people. Hell, Hollywood made a whole movie, Hotel Rwanda, to commemorate the event.

Hotel Rwanda was made in 2004, just 10 years after the genocide. The movie denounced the lack of US or UN involvement in helping to restore order in the country. Today, the scars from the mass killing still remain. For example, this priest was just now found guilty for crimes associated with the genocide.

A caption below his picture in an article reads, “ A Catholic priest was convicted Wednesday of participating in Rwanda's 1994 genocide by ordering militiamen to set fire to a church and then bulldoze it while 2,000 people were huddled inside.”

Meanwhile, in Sudan and Somalia similar government-led murder sprees are occurring RIGHT NOW. The spillover affect is also an issue, meaning that neighboring countries will see an influx of displaced persons as these government sponsored terror campaigns against their own people continue. The situation has escalated in the African country, Chad, as refugees from Sudan cross their border. Sudanese militia are now attacking Chadians and Sudanese people alike. Click on this link for a web-based slide show reflecting the conditions in Chad.

Westernized cultures, especially North America, have been very disconnected from the rest of the world. I’m finally just starting to understand the depths of my ignorance beyond my own borders and it’s staggering. As Americans, we need to be more aware of the world and the condition of its inhabitants. After all, we are supposed to be the leaders.

The lyrics below are fitting right now, as we prepare for our big family Holiday-inspired events. Let’s also take time to remember our extended family as in, OUR HUMAN FAMILY. The rest of the world needs us.

The Cranberries- Ode to My Family

Understand the things I say
Don’t turn away from me
Cause I spent half my life out there
You wouldn’t disagree
Do you see me, do you see
Do you like me, do you like me standing there
Do you notice, do you know
Do you see me, do you see me
Does anyone care

Unhappiness when I was young
And we didn’t give a damn
’cause we were raised
To see life as fun and take it if we can
My mother, my mother she held me
Did she hold me, when I was out there
My father, my father, he liked me
Oh he liked me, does anyone care?

Understand what I’ve become
It wasn’t my design
And people everywhere think
Something better than I am
But I miss you
’cause I liked it, I liked it
When I was out there
You did not find me, you did not find
Does anyone care?

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