Jan, 2020 back to Sep, 2010: (nothing)
I'm going home.
Flying away makes me examine my experiences. I reflect and reflect until I worry the mirrors inside me will shatter from over-thought.
To the countless greens of Rwanda, the dusty infinities of Tanzania, the blissful bananas of Uganda, the recently-peaceful politics of Kenya, the picture-perfect beaches of Zanzibar and the friends and strangers who unify and diversify the land with all with your culture, beauty and warmth: kwa heri.
Stand in the middle of one downtown Mombasa street and look north at the rickshaw distributing black fumes. Close your left eye, and your right will treat you to neat piles of sharp-red tomatoes on the sidewalk, hawked by friendly vendors.
But the smell of fresh vegetables won't make it to your nose. Open your left eye to see why: mounds of garbage 800,000 people high leak dark juices that seep down the street, fly through the air and buffet into both nostrils.
Cross the petrol-scented bridge from the city core to Kenya's mainland, head east past the mosaic of market scents and walk along the golf-course road, lined with grassicured lawns. Stop and lift your nose: even this far, a ten-minute walk from the beach, you'll smell the salt and breeze of the Indian ocean.
I didn't expect that smell. In Dar es Salaam, ocean breeze mutates to stagnant smog before even hitting land. But here in Mombasa, it's as though the wind has been showering since it left India and it'll be damned if it's going to let a few hundred metres' worth of kite surfers and holiday resorts mess up its hair.
As I was interviewing a refugee in a camp about his inspiring story, an outsider came to make sure I was telling it properly.
"You're getting how wretched people are here, right?" he asked.
Refugees play volleyball instead of being wretched.
The outsider, who is not a refugee, would benefit politically if I wrote a story about wretchedness. He'd hold my story up high, proclaiming, "look! even a Westerner wrote that these people are wretched!" and if that helped him achieve his ends ... he'd get richer.
I was arrested for being white while strolling around Goma during Congo's 50th anniversary of independence on June 30th.
I was told I made a mistake in leaving my passport at my guest house. I did that because I figured taking my passport to the pickpocket-stuffed streets would be an even bigger mistake. (It was the right decision: I even caught one pickpocket in the act.)
Of course, the reason was euphemism. The whole crowd, laughing at me, knew I was arrested purely because of my skin colour. Or maybe I was arrested because the policeman on that block was angry at me after his superior chastized him for trying to extract a bribe from me the day before.
They had intended to arrest me for taking pictures. But I was cautious enough to distrust the encouragement of four policemen and army captains; when the authorities realized they couldn't arrest me for taking pictures, they went down their checklist of excuses.
Jul, 2010 back to May, 2010: (nothing)
I am in Tanzania.
I wasn't excited. I wasn't worried. I wasn't afraid. I was only wondering: when does preparation end and the feeling of "Tanzania" begin?
The plan, in broad strokes, is this:
- Work for three weeks for Femina HIP Ltd., the same Tanzanian HIV/gender/sexuality awareness media house I worked with in 2007-2008.
- Work through May and June for Rwanda News Agency, in Kigali.
- Spend July in Tanzania on a secret project.
- In August until the 18th, laze around Tanzania, do some journalism in Tanzania or Rwanda, and/or travel to nearby countries.
Apr, 2010 back to Sep, 2009: (nothing)
I am about to leave my Software Engineering career in New York to study Journalism at Carleton University (in Ottawa). I am constantly asked to explain such insanity; so I am reviving an old essay I wrote (after returning from Uganda but before volunteering in Tanzania) which might help explain why I am more interested in journalism at this stage of my life.
Would you like to hear about my most shameful moment?
I was about eleven years old. I had been left alone with satellite television: quite a novelty for my pre-teen self, who grew up with no television whatsoever. I was new to the concept of channel-surfing, and as such I was quite inefficient in my quest to uncover the needle of cartoons in the haystack of hundreds of channels of Sunday-morning programming.
At my level of channel-flipping street sense, it is understandable that I got stuck on an infomercial for a minute or so. I was knowledgeable enough to never consider buying whatever was for sale; I was also well-informed about how infomercial-viewing is a faux-pas. But alone with the remote control, I allowed myself one minute of guilty curiosity: I watched a paid advertisement.
Aug, 2009 back to Jan, 2009: (nothing)
This story has hit all major news websites, but I want to plug it here, too: Ben Affleck's five-minute film about the UNHCR in Eastern Congo. (UNHCR means United Nation High Commission for Refugees: the agency that sets up refugee camps.)
The film has smiling people, which constantly awes me when I witness poverty, and which Ben Affleck deliberately wanted to demonstrate: these are real people. Hats off for an unconventional and powerful approach to the genre.
(The documentary cleverly omits the part of the story where the UNHCR sheltered the army of genocidaires largely responsible for starting this conflict, back in 1994; but it also refrains from reminding us that we the Western people spent decades hurling causes of war into the region, so I suppose both oversights cancel each other out.)
Again, watch this five-minute film about an entire people's way of life. It should help put our own economic crises into perspective.
I was planning another blog post today about New York, but with the world the way it is, I cannot bring myself to write it.
- In Democratic Republic of the Congo, a new French word is born: reviolé. Rebel forces plunder all they can from the villages they attack (with an insinuation of the word plunder more evil than most people can fathom). Government soldiers, defeated, extract everything they can from the people they are paid to protect as they retreat. Atrocity rates are so unfathomably massive that women who have been raped in several, unrelated incidents is becoming a nonzero demographic. The Congolese government looks in the other direction while its own employees commit atrocities; the UN peacekeepers (the largest UN peacekeeping force in the world) cower in impotence, other international bodies are powerless to interfere, ordinary Congolese men are brushed aside, and Congolese women have no recourse: they must suffer, repeatedly, disgusting humiliation I can scarcely imagine.
- Not to be outdone, a 13-year-old rape victim in Somalia is stoned to death on adultery charges by one of the many groups hoping to become a government, in a stadium packed with a thousand murderous men.
My heart goes out to the victims of this most base, evil, vulgar, and despicable crime: especially those women honest and well-meaning enough to shed their dignity and publicize their suffering. I am sickened by the existence of masses of men in the world who are so unmoved as to lower themselves to rape and murder... and by the fact that I have something in common with them.
I wish I could chop theirs off.