Kleshas and Tanhas

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What Scares Me, Uganda and Africa

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*Photograph taken by Bryan Juliano            
   There’sjust something about Africa that scares me. I’ve been fortunate enough toliterally go to the other side of the world in Okinawa, Japan. Let me tell youthat when we were not in Tokyo, the world was foreign to say the least. OurWestern culture shares its similarities and differences with the Far East and Ienjoyed my visit with family stationed there; I had the chance to see a little morethan the average tourist! That was a trip in my past. One that I have in myfuture is to serve in some impoverished, third-world country in South America.I am drawn to my Catholic brothers and sisters that predominantly populate someof the nations below the equator.
Geoffrey Ochem*
               Butthere remains this strong fear and maybe some awe for Africa. Whatever limitedknowledge I can conjure up to rattle off for a class derived from an earlier class that brieflytouched on Africa. Media has its scopes on Egypt and Libya, Yemen at times, andwhatever interactions northern countries have with Europe. But I feel like inthe instances of Egypt and Libya, their appearances in our limited newscoverage only revolve around the “revolution of the Middle East” and its spreadto the northern countries of Africa. (Even though Libya’s violence stems from adifferent root-bear with me!) Yemen; I heard about it in an Outside article which christened it themost dangerous tourist destination for Americans. And since my interest with Europeancurrent events is spread thin from Greece to France with economic hardships, Ioccasionally hear about immigration problems from North Africa.
               I also wouldlike to add that my fear of Africa probably derives from yes, my ignoranceabove, as well as my European history classes and reading The Ear, the Eye, and the Armby Nancy Farmer. If I can sum up European imperialism in the 19thand 20th centuries: they done screwed the African nations over big time.Maybe I feel some sort of regret? Not that I had any direct affiliation 150years ago, but I suppose that is a factor. It could also be the disservice ofcertain history courses that revolved around Europe, the Americas, and Asia.(So that would be my fault; I chose the classes.) I read The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm in middle school. In essence, theplot revolved around a futuristic Zimbabwe. Within this Brave New World setting existed a tribe. And now that I havementioned Brave New World, the samesort of abstraction-from-society theme lies in Huxley’s pages as well (andprobably predates Farmer.) Yet, The Ear,the Eye, and the Arm painted a picture in my late childhood. There was aheavy contrast between polar opposites in the financial spectrum. And now, anymedia coverage on Africa fits this preceding mental image of Africa I have hadever since I was thirteen.
               I stillhave this fear; maybe even more so after attending Front Line’s Invisible Children presentation. Afterthe last seminar I attended on child violence inPhiladelphia, it has begun to grind my gears. Though I have not taken someheroic proactive stance on the issue, I was drawn to tonight’s topic, nowshifted to scary Africa. As I mentioned above, through the eyes of slantedmedia (in addition to my lacking motivation to look for a fuller variety ofsources,) I have recently seen Africa in struggle and turmoil. By attendingtonight, I felt like I was witnessing a car crash; I just could not look away.Yes, I was toying with my fear and facing it by showing up to a proactivemeeting. But I also thought it was an opportunity to let a darker human form offascination. Why would I be drawn to this horrendous reality of children enslavedto murder under warlords? And to clarify, when I say drawn, I mean like a mothto the light-not to be confused with some sort of sadistic-masochist attraction.
               Let metry to explain myself. Once I heard in Tony,a documentary on an individual’s life in northern Uganda, the term night commuters, I felt the hair on theback of my neck stand up. Because of the apparent civil war in Uganda betweenthe Lord’s Resistance Army and Ugandan government that has been waged for thepast two decades, children that are caught in the crossfire of inhumaneviolence (yes, there is a difference between humane and inhumane violence-Ifound that out tonight,) go into cities or larger populations to sleep. They gofrom their homes to avoid violence and enslavement every night.
               As any21st century documentary might have, Tony depicted the truest of colors its namesake’s home. I can onlysay thank you to Front Line for not drawing out the horror inflicted by JosephConvey’s LRA. What little coverage they used was enough. For me it was. But itobviously was not for Invisible Children.The documentary-style of Tony allowedfor one of its producers and founders of InvisibleChildren, Laren Poole, to speak directly to the audience. In this address,he said something along the lines of: “Now you’ll hear from someone Uganda…” Idid not actually think he meant it.
               GeoffreyOchem is twenty-four. His village was raided by the LRA when he was sixteen. Hewas pressed into service when he and two of his friends, Simon and Peter,witnessed the murder of a child soldier who was used as an example. Two monthslater, Geoffrey escaped from being rope-bound to ten other captive-soldiers ina firefight with Ugandan government forces. Tonight, six years later, he stilldoes not know where Simon and Peter are. By the way, Geoffrey’s personality wasshy in certain ways as well as firm. His English was choppy at times, but whenhe knew what he wanted to say, his point came across clearly; Uganda, his home,is ravished by irrepressible sectarian violence. What hit me hard was that hewas seemingly more nervous about being in front of college students thanemotional over his recollection of his past. His sincere laughs ended hisanswers to our questions adding a bit of light-heartedness to the grim realityput before us. That was most notable in my book; how he stood there, completelyopening his heart to retell a few atrocities.
               So,where’s the hope? Does this mean my fear of Africa is justified or increased? I’dsay so. But wait, that was InvisibleChildren’s goal, wasn’t it? Maybe not to induce fear, but somewhere near it.Geoffrey finished courses at his university and is graduating with a B.A. inteaching. He plans on teaching secondary history and economics. For one, hisstory is the epitome of InvisibleChildren’s objective: promote education. Another underlying themethroughout Tony that was reiteratedindirectly by Geoffrey’s own words is the harm American arrogance can cause. InTony, Jolly Okot, the initial Ugandancontact for the Laren Poole and founders, stressed the incrimination caused byfree stuff from America. Geoffrey, when asked by the audience what his initialimpression of the States was, answered, “I did not plan on coming to the U.S.”
 What I took away from both points was Americanresources and America itself is not this readily-made solution that is capableof being specifically cut for Uganda’s violence. Even when a bill proposed by Invisible Children’s Laren Poole reachedand passed in Congress last year to capture/stop Joseph Convey, the fact thathis violence is spreading past Uganda points to the limitation to America’sreadiness to throw Uganda a bone after bureaucracy had its say.
As a final point of reflection, Ithink my fear increased. The reality of the violence in Uganda was brought tomy doorstep. A member of InvisibleChildren, Nate, was murdered in the terrorist attack in Kampala during lastyear’s World Cup. Some proactive groups have videos that play off emotions togain financial and vocal support. But I have never come away from apresentation more fearful than I had initially walked in with; thanks Invisible Children.

*Photograph taken by Bryan Juliano

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Written by Jack Viere

October 13, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Posted in dukkha

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