Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gone Girls

Last week, the news broke a story of hundreds of schoolgirls abducted from their school in Nigeria by a militant faction called Boko Haram. The names and beliefs of these abductors aren't important at this point.

How can I say that? Because the government and military of Nigeria seem to think that the number of girls missing and their names and their innocence is not important. Media has more information on who these lunatics are and the things they are responsible for than they have on who these girls are and how many, exactly, are missing. Initial reports suggest 130 were missing. Some reports are over 200. Some reports mislead the public saying that all but 10 had returned.

You know what I know? It doesn't matter if it is one girl or 200. She and every "she" with her, deserves to be home, back in school and have her innocence unfettered. Is that going to happen? Probably not. The story here is about the crazies. The insurgents. Again, the militants and violent offenders who continue to terrorize and destabilize the countries they live in.

I was having coffee with a friend this morning and we were talking about the idea of a bunch of terrorists walking into our local school and stealing the entire class of girls. Would we talk about the lunacy and the terror? Of course we would. But, I would suggest that we would know each girls' name. Her family's feelings. Her achievements and the hole in the lives that her disappearance has caused. Why? Because we're more human? No. North Americans demand that of their media, regardless of the desire of privacy on the part of those affected. Which is better?

I'll tell you what is better. That girls could go safely to school and get an education. That countries and governments could stabilize without the ever present upset of terror and violence tipping the scales. And it would be better if we outside of Africa could remember that each of these girls is a daughter, a sister, a friend. A girl with a future and a name. A girl who went to school in her uniform in the morning and is still wearing it 5 days later, and we have no idea what she's been subjected to in the meantime.

We need to check ourselves. It's easy to say that "they're used to it" or "that happens so often in African countries" if that excuses our apathy even if it were true. What is true in North America is that there are school shootings on a far more regular basis than we would like to see but it doesn't diminish the pain when it's your child laying bleeding in his school library.

The world has been fixated on searches lately. The search for nearly 300 from a missing Malaysian Airlines flight. The search for over 200 in the waters where a Korean ferry sunk. Why aren't we demanding the same resources and international attention on the search for hundreds of missing, and known to be abducted, school girls in Nigeria. What are we saying about the worth of their lives?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fighting the Dementors

The wind is howling. Literally, it is screaming its way through my office window like a Dementor from Harry Potter's realm. It's not the wind or its inconsistent screeching that continues to distract me this morning, but the sound is certainly laying down the tracks of an appropriate soundtrack.

I've admittedly watched too much news this week, not all of it good. Over 100 Nigerian school girls abducted at gunpoint from their classrooms by armed extremists. A ship sinking in frigid waters with students texting their parents as the ship fills and traps them.  A inexplicable stabbing rampage at the end of the year celebration of university students in Calgary. A couple's young daughter feeling tired and restless and worn down in the midst of her third chemo treatment.

These are the Dementors that are grabbing hold of me today. I don't mean to give credence to the existence of these dark creatures that are written purely as fantasy, but listen to how Harry's professor describes them and tell me that these aren't the things we deal with daily:

"Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, a Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life." - Remus Lupin to Harry Potter 

There are always things around us that are looking to suck the life, energy, peace and hope out of us. The only way to combat that is to avoid those things where possible and to fill ourselves of as much life, energy, peace and hope that we can in an effort to sustain ourselves.

So today, one of those that has me wanting to crawl back under the covers and stay in bed till spring truly arrives,  I'm taking a few moments to find the good stuff. The photos on my desk of my boys sitting in the dirt in Africa, talking to other boys and playing games. Some brightly coloured paintings from Cambodia that remind me that somewhere in the world there is warmth and there are literally hundreds of children right now being cared for by their house mothers at Place of Rescue, with food in their tummies and homework to be done. And particularly, I can bring to mind the nighttime routines of our care workers and kids in our community in Zambia, and I can picture more than a few of their homes as they settle in for the night. I think of the floors I've sat on, the beds I've shared, the places of honour I've been seated at throughout Mulenga, and my heart fills back up with hope and energy and peace.

It's not easy to stay filled with good things. It takes intention. So, this morning, that's what I'm repeating over and over, as the wind rattles the windows. I'm rewriting the soundtrack to make it something I can dance to or sing with.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Looking Forward, Looking Back

I'm in the midst of a Saskatoon spring storm. It's snowing and I'm getting a team of 10 organized for a  trip to Zambia this coming July. It's hard to get my head around it in times like these. The dirt paths we'll walk, the warm nights under mosquito netting, the squatting in dark homes with the smoke of cooking fires stinging our eyes. And then, I remember this video. And I have watched it several times today. None without tears, I might add. I can't wait to get back to our family and friends in this community. I know that prayers and thoughts and translated messages have sustained that friendship over the past years but there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more hopeful than being in the presence of those that live out love every single day to those that need it most. Somewhere in this video, I have expect to see an image of the trajectory of my life changing, because this? This is exactly where and when.
I can't even imagine my life without that change.

Zambia 2009

Friday, April 4, 2014

Not "Never Again"

The thoughts I have today are heavy and more than a little overwhelming. My ideal day would be to self medicate with an oversize hunk of chocolate and then curl up in a ball and nap on my office floor.  Alas, I don't have that luxury so I continue to work, desk covered in post it notes, printed lists with additional tasks hastily scribbled underneath.

The thoughts I've had today started with a reminder that today has been 20 years since the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. That day, started with an airliner carrying government leaders being shot down and sparking smouldering hatred that raged through the country leaving death, dismemberment, torture and rape in its wake. It was weeks in which radios identified vehicles filled with fleeing Tutsis as cockroaches and ordered the Hutus to annihilate them. The voice of authority coming out of thousands of radios, voicing aggression, pandering hatred, demanding murder. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands until the very country was dismembered. Family members betrayed family members, neighbours attacked neighbours, teachers severed the limbs of students, men who sold produce to customers became their rapists. Whole families were killed and those who were not, were left to flee, leaving the bodies of their loved ones where they fell. In spite of the presence of peacekeepers from outside countries, the world went on with their lives with minimal response to the atrocities. It wasn't due to lack of information, it was due to lack of empathy. Rwanda reminded us that after all the outcry after the Holocaust, that really, "never again" was just rhetoric.

Even now, people hear about Rwanda and have the audacity to say "never again" while the same hatred and terror runs rampant throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the Central African Republic's Muslims and Christians slaughter one another senselessly, entrapping innocent people in communities to starve or forcing them to flee with no where to run. In case, you're one of those that believe that these are African issues, then turn your eyes on Syria where three years in, millions (I want to scream that number for emphasis) are displaced either within the borders or in neighbouring countries because of a conflict that really has nothing to do with the common person on the ground. Men, women and children lived lives extraordinarily similar to ours, taking children to school and then to music lessons, working in the business sector and then shopping at the market on the way home, until their government and others decided that these ordinary citizens should be used as collateral in a war that has everything to do with greed and corruption and nothing to do with bettering the lives of those they purport to serve.

Never again, in deed.

And then to Afghanistan. We've watched the footage of Canadian troops withdrawing for the last time in Afghanistan and the preparation for elections. These should be signs of hope and progress. And then today. The cover of the NY Times features a photo by the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Anja Niedringhaus. And a report comes in across the wire that this amazing and gifted woman, was shot multiple times from metres away by an Afghani policeman yelling some misguided homage to his god. And that, is life today.

So for all the post it notes and added scribbles of to do's that could bury me on their own,  today can not and will not carry on until I take some time, as I often do, to peruse again, the amazing photography of one of the greats, Anja Niedringhaus. And I do so, with prayers for her coworker and our fellow Canadian, Karen Gammon, who was injured in the same attack.

These women did not have to use their skills for this particular type of photography. The world clambers for photos of beauty and joy, for easy inspiration and visuals to simply feel good about.  I would challenge you today, for we are all busy, but don't be too busy to take a moment and look at the beauty and the joy, the inspiration and the kind of life we should all emulate - that which involves risk and injury, even to the point of death, in the hope that we could make our world a better place to live. For that, that is the legacy that we've been left. There is no "never again" in a world that continues to live unto itself and ignore that which goes on around them.

Anja Niedringhaus Photography