“Now, after three years in the Peace Corps, my father’s letter had illuminated my real position and Ecuador; I was engaged in the ultimate bourgeois gesture. I had come to live for a time in a poor village….
When things got too rough: if I got sick or the food became unbearable or if the town for some reason or another should you erupt into drunken violence or if, even, the ambient of the town became too boring, I could simply jump in a canoe for Esmeraldas and catch a bus to Quito. I was the only one in town who could solve his problems by simply going to Quito.”
(Moritz Thomsen. The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey On Two Rivers)
We all like to say we are in for the long haul with a people on continents like Africa. Every International would say we are, or pretend we are. But the reality is we can easily run away, when locals cannot. They have nowhere to go, they are home.
If we say we have cast our lot in, what does it communicate to our local friends when we pack up and leave every time there is a little uncertainty.
Granted, my village friends are so out of touch with global realities that they border on clueless. Often oblivious to political happenings around them, and have little grasp of the greater risk to a western foreigner in troubled times. Like the 2012 coup in Mali, nine months later I encountered a whole village who was totally unaware their president had been ousted and an interim-government in place. They had no idea who Al-Qaeda was (AQIM), what they had done to their people and nation.
Truth is, when the going gets tough, as Mortiz father wrote, we can run away from our “play”. The going is tough in Mali these days.
Beatrice Stockly, the only person on earth to have been kidnapped two times by Al-Qaeda, stayed. She did not go home, refused to go home, because her home is Timbuktu, not Switzerland. She said she will die there, bought a house, moved in. When we say, “She should just go home”, we forget this is her real actual home. I respect her because as a woman, she is a real threat to AQIM. She is the kind of woman with enough courage to stand, refusing to be silenced in the face of both Islamic and Christian Church leaders who attempted to silence her. She was being too effective as a woman. A threat to the patriarchal power.
Yet, Beatrice continued to serve the local people without favoritism- adult or child, boy or girl, man or woman. She is despised by fundamentalists of all religions because of it. She should have submitted more, followed traditional male-female roles more, she was too much outside the box, so it seems.
Hats off to Beatrice for standing against misogynistic religious fundamentalism in both camps, and serving anyway.
She has balls, the likes of which most male and female expats do not have. The silence, the quick, dismissive attitudes among the expat community infuriate me.
But I know even I would be streached further than I have ever been streached before by women like Beatrice. I am sure she is a hand full.
Yet, we need more Beatrice Stocklys, though our demure fundamentalist influenced female stock don’t know it. You should be chearing for your sister. She has things to teach us, areas where she can streach our understanding. A source of courage that seems so foolish to us, that it must be quick to cause us to sit up, not shut up, to admire, asking why?
This came to mind from a famous Brazilian spiritualist
One afternoon at the monastery at Sceta, one of the monks offended another. The superior of the monastery, Brother Sisois, asked that the offended monk forgive his aggressor. “I cannot do that,” responded the monk. “It was he that did this, and it he who must pay.” At that very moment, Brother Sisois raised his arms to heaven and began to pray: “My Jesus, we no longer have need of thee. We are now capable of making the aggressor pay for his offenses. We are now able to take vengeance into our own hands, and to deal with Good and Evil. Therefore, You can leave us on our own, and their will be no problem.” Ashamed, the monk immediately pardoned his brother.” ~ Brother Sisois (Maktub. Paulo Coelho)
Are we dealing with evil on our own?
I look at the current American situation and have a mix of yes and no. I do not endorse violent riots, damage to property.
However, peaceful, ongoing (unrelenting) protest is needed sometimes. It is the only thing that makes governments (and Fundamentalist powers) sit up and listen. It serves the power elite’s purposes for us all to shut up, go home, and be a good little societal robot, – no matter if the system stifles you, your normal daily activity, and your ability to make a real living. We think we are in a democracy, but we have very little control. Westerners have no democracy any more.
Their is an elite few engineering the economic plan to their favor, and the masses are expected to fall in line and not question too much. We have no real democracy in North America.
We need peaceful protests, unionized work forces to defend average workers. Decent wage protests. We need more of this, not less. If police are pulling a gun first on black people, speak up, and never shut up. Where ever the evil of corruption, abuse, domineering power rears its ugly head, do not be so quick to run away.
The French are a great example. When the government does not hear them, they hit the streets. I in no way endorse violence or burning. But peaceful, loud, in your face protest is the only thing that breaks the control and manipulation of a government not hearing. The French have it correct that way.
I think of places like Haiti. Since the devastation I have been asked three times to oversee development work in Haiti. I declined three times. I would not touch Haiti with a ten foot poll. Why? We have created an NGO state that is masking the real issue. The government is totally delinquent, and everyone agrees with this. NGO’s and christian charities came in (about 1000 registered in Haiti) who basically run all the social programs and services, while corrupt officials pocket everything, and continue to do nothing to develop their nation. We, the NGO and christian development outsiders, have enabled the government to do little for the people, and enabled the duration of this financial raping of the people to carry on much longer than it should have. I get the dilemma, average poor people need help, do we stand by and let them die or suffer from poor health? I am not writing about the last wave of destruction, of course you have to stop the bleeding in disaster situations. These agencies were there long before the destruction….before the disaster, that historical pattern is what I am talking about.
We enabled corruption to continue by setting up a quasi- care system run by foreigners. Haiti was always refereed to as the NGO state. When riots and protests against the government begin, we westerners cry peace, they need peace, not war, for the people are suffering enough already.
The frigging truth is that Haiti needs a revolution. Yes, some people will pay the price for the freedom that will come after. Freedom is never free. It will certainly hamper the presence and activity of most western NGO agencies. But we can not and should not stand in the way of Haitians only means to bring about change – Protest, loud, unrelenting protest. See, we want peace so we can stay on and do our amazing work. They need to oust the crooks, and that will not be easy, nor clean. Never deny people the right to peaceful voice, and when shot at by the powers that be, self defense.
Anyway, it all sounds so in your face. We get to run away on an AREOplane, and lament that we can no longer be there doing our amazing work, and worry about the stuff we left behind. Let it fall, it all needs to be rebuilt anyway.
I was visiting a retired international in a care facility. One of my early mentors, Vida Cass. She told me about the 1964 coup in Brazil which overthrew President João Goulart. She was at home in a small town with three kids when another westerner arrived at the door and saying. “You need to come with us.” The westerner explained what was taking place and expressed how they needed to evacuate immediately. Vida said her husband Lew was in another district about two and a half hours away at the time, (the borders closed between each Brazilian district, thus Lew would not get back home quickly, nor easily) and she told him
“We are not going anywhere. We are staying right here until Lou comes home.” And she did.
Lew and Vida stayed in various countries and regions over the years, long after the time when many other westerners left.
I think of the Jones family who first came to take over our work in Ivory Coast, they were the last family in the whole country, within their kind of work sphere, to remain. I visited them and did some teaching in the country at the time.
Staying on is not a bad thing. It can build deep trust. Are we playing in developing nations?
Trust building by staying was also our experience when the bombs fell in 2013 in Mali, just under a year after the coup. We stayed, almost left 3 times, but we stayed. The bewilderment in locals as we tried to explain why we might have to leave. Until you have to look at them in the eye…. you will never understand how much a “why are you so quick to run away?”question is reflected from their facial expressions.
We had the bags tossed out the door twice, and at 4 am we stood there in the dark asking each other, “Do you really want to go? Is running across the border going to be any better a situation for us?” We tossed the bags back in and called our Malian ride telling him to go back home. It was not easy. The embassy, friends, family, fellow expats were concerned, saying we will became greater targets as more and more expats evacuated.
The best opportunities and most rapid progress in our work occurred within weeks of that decision to stay. It was the right choice at the time. Was it irresponsible? Who knows. It depends who you ask, from which side of the ocean. It is all in the perspective. But after hunkering down for two weeks, i made a trip back to the village. While many hundreds of expats were evacuating, my village elder friend said to me.
“We had one of your brothers here, a Canadian.”
Turns out that in the midst of all this he was out there negotiating contracts with the village for some international juice company. They would supply free fertilizer to fertilize the mango trees, if the village agreed to sell mangoes to his company. So the AID workers, the development agencies, and Christian workers are running away in droves while business men and women in Mali, there to make money, for profit, were still out making business deals. Canadians, Europeans, Chinese. Business as usual for them.
It was a humbling lesson, it was an illuminating story. I’ll never forget this story, it speaks volumes.
Having said all this. I run among a tribe of people who don’t run away quickly. Many of my international friends are the kind of people who stayed. People who are reluctant to run away. Each of these tribesmen and tribeswomen are among the most integrated, and therefore fruitful kind of humans on this planet. Locals love them. I have much to learn from them. I am humbled by them.
But many expats I encounter are not like them.
Locals should be permitted to address evil. May Almighty God help them in the process as they become a voice. When they are ready to speak, I’ll not run away so easily at such times. I’ll not scream peace when corruptions, abuse, or down right murderous evil needs some dealing.
I write this story to myself. My intention is not to judge you. We all have to make the choices we can live with, literally “live” with, and, hopefully, rarely, die with.
Am i ready for this task come hell or high water?
How about you? Tell me your story, about the choices you have had to make to not run so quickly.