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Thursday, October 13, 2011

What Scares Me, Uganda and Africa


*Photograph taken by Bryan Juliano            
   There’s just something about Africa that scares me. I’ve been fortunate enough to literally go to the other side of the world in Okinawa, Japan. Let me tell you that when we were not in Tokyo, the world was foreign to say the least. Our Western culture shares its similarities and differences with the Far East and I enjoyed my visit with family stationed there; I had the chance to see a little more than the average tourist! That was a trip in my past. One that I have in my future is to serve in some impoverished, third-world country in South America. I am drawn to my Catholic brothers and sisters that predominantly populate some of the nations below the equator.
Geoffrey Ochem*
               But there remains this strong fear and maybe some awe for Africa. Whatever limited knowledge I can conjure up to rattle off for a class derived from an earlier class that briefly touched on Africa. Media has its scopes on Egypt and Libya, Yemen at times, and whatever interactions northern countries have with Europe. But I feel like in the instances of Egypt and Libya, their appearances in our limited news coverage only revolve around the “revolution of the Middle East” and its spread to the northern countries of Africa. (Even though Libya’s violence stems from a different root-bear with me!) Yemen; I heard about it in an Outside article which christened it the most dangerous tourist destination for Americans. And since my interest with European current events is spread thin from Greece to France with economic hardships, I occasionally hear about immigration problems from North Africa.
               I also would like to add that my fear of Africa probably derives from yes, my ignorance above, as well as my European history classes and reading The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer. If I can sum up European imperialism in the 19th and 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 150 years ago, but I suppose that is a factor. It could also be the disservice of certain 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, the plot revolved around a futuristic Zimbabwe. Within this Brave New World setting existed a tribe. And now that I have mentioned Brave New World, the same sort of abstraction-from-society theme lies in Huxley’s pages as well (and probably predates Farmer.) Yet, The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm painted a picture in my late childhood. There was a heavy contrast between polar opposites in the financial spectrum. And now, any media coverage on Africa fits this preceding mental image of Africa I have had ever since I was thirteen.
               I still have this fear; maybe even more so after attending Front Line’s Invisible Children presentation. After the last seminar I attended on child violence in Philadelphia, it has begun to grind my gears. Though I have not taken some heroic proactive stance on the issue, I was drawn to tonight’s topic, now shifted to scary Africa. As I mentioned above, through the eyes of slanted media (in addition to my lacking motivation to look for a fuller variety of sources,) I have recently seen Africa in struggle and turmoil. By attending tonight, 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 proactive meeting. But I also thought it was an opportunity to let a darker human form of fascination. Why would I be drawn to this horrendous reality of children enslaved to murder under warlords? And to clarify, when I say drawn, I mean like a moth to the light-not to be confused with some sort of sadistic-masochist attraction.
               Let me try 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 the back of my neck stand up. Because of the apparent civil war in Uganda between the Lord’s Resistance Army and Ugandan government that has been waged for the past two decades, children that are caught in the crossfire of inhumane violence (yes, there is a difference between humane and inhumane violence-I found that out tonight,) go into cities or larger populations to sleep. They go from their homes to avoid violence and enslavement every night.
               As any 21st century documentary might have, Tony depicted the truest of colors its namesake’s home. I can only say thank you to Front Line for not drawing out the horror inflicted by Joseph Convey’s LRA. What little coverage they used was enough. For me it was. But it obviously was not for Invisible Children. The documentary-style of Tony allowed for one of its producers and founders of Invisible Children, 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…” I did not actually think he meant it.
               Geoffrey Ochem is twenty-four. His village was raided by the LRA when he was sixteen. He was 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 months later, Geoffrey escaped from being rope-bound to ten other captive-soldiers in a firefight with Ugandan government forces. Tonight, six years later, he still does not know where Simon and Peter are. By the way, Geoffrey’s personality was shy in certain ways as well as firm. His English was choppy at times, but when he 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 he was seemingly more nervous about being in front of college students than emotional over his recollection of his past. His sincere laughs ended his answers to our questions adding a bit of light-heartedness to the grim reality put before us. That was most notable in my book; how he stood there, completely opening his heart to retell a few atrocities.
               So, where’s the hope? Does this mean my fear of Africa is justified or increased? I’d say so. But wait, that was Invisible Children’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. in teaching. He plans on teaching secondary history and economics. For one, his story is the epitome of Invisible Children’s objective: promote education. Another underlying theme throughout Tony that was reiterated indirectly by Geoffrey’s own words is the harm American arrogance can cause. In Tony, Jolly Okot, the initial Ugandan contact for the Laren Poole and founders, stressed the incrimination caused by free stuff from America. Geoffrey, when asked by the audience what his initial impression of the States was, answered, “I did not plan on coming to the U.S.”
 What I took away from both points was American resources and America itself is not this readily-made solution that is capable of being specifically cut for Uganda’s violence. Even when a bill proposed by Invisible Children’s Laren Poole reached and passed in Congress last year to capture/stop Joseph Convey, the fact that his violence is spreading past Uganda points to the limitation to America’s readiness to throw Uganda a bone after bureaucracy had its say.
As a final point of reflection, I think my fear increased. The reality of the violence in Uganda was brought to my doorstep. A member of Invisible Children, Nate, was murdered in the terrorist attack in Kampala during last year’s World Cup. Some proactive groups have videos that play off emotions to gain financial and vocal support. But I have never come away from a presentation more fearful than I had initially walked in with; thanks Invisible Children.

*Photograph taken by Bryan Juliano

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