Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Worst Since WW2

to continue the happy vibes from the last post... this one is for the new year.

had a dinner party last night and there was someone who works as camera man for the UN, just arriving in Berlin a few hours earlier, after being stationed in various parts of Africa for the past 8 years: mainly Uganda, Rwanda, and for the past 4 years, Congo.

a few hours before he got on the plane (i guess the day before yesterday?), a church where 400 children and some adult refugees were hiding was discovered by rival faction soldiers, and all 400+ were hacked to pieces with machetes, and thrown into the river.

a normal occurance, just another day.

i knew that things have always been bad since (and before) the beginning of the second Congolese war, and after its "end", and that there have been recent escalations of violence, but i did know just how bad.

he told of child soldiers aged 7 to 17, acting in groups of 6 to a dozen: the oldest would be the leader, and the job of the youngest was to carry the cut off hands and feet of dead enemies. they would return to base at night, and would take out the body parts to show the commanders, like "here are 12 pieces, look how well we did." hoping to get a promotion, and/or more food, more drugs.

regularly he documents the aftermath of a battle, with hundreds of bodies strewn about, sometimes having been left in the sun for weeks. and on several occasions run ins with child soldiers, and having the nozzle of an AK47 shoved into his face, and the cold, empty, inhuman eyes of a 10 year old staring into his own.

the drug of choice for these children is a mix of heroin, sometimes cocaine, cut with gunpowder as an extender, mixed with a bit of water. the method of intake is to soak a piece of cotton with the mixture, and insert it into a slit cut into a cheek on the face, sealed by a bandage -- this way the dope slowly and steadily enters the bloodstream, and lasts all day, as they go out and do their thing. (not sure why the face is used and not, say, inner thigh).

he told of millions of people who have been moving from refugee camp to refugee camp, often several times a year, for the past decade or more. the lucky ones have a single cooking pot that they carry with them on top of the head. at each camp, they are given a piece of plastic and some wood/branches, with which they build a small tent/shelter, after clearing the ground of rocks with their hands.

the main objective for the many different factions, is of course to dominate pieces of land rich with mineral and other resources, mainly diamonds and the stuff that goes in cell phones. gaining control of territory and setting up mines can mean billions of dollars for the war lords -- every cell phone in the world has a piece from those regions, and every diamond -- the global economy is directly connected with what is happening.

"talk about 'how the other half lives'", he said.

some Congolese Rumba came on my randomized itunes play list, and he told of the smiles immediately lighting up African faces when they hear music, and immediately getting up to dance: it is the only good thing in life. and "similar to the culture of fashionable men with starving families who support their obsession with haute couture: entire villages will celebrate if someone brought back a Comme des Garçons jacket from Brussels -- it is one of the only happy things in their lives".

he told of a Dutch artist who made a project called "Enjoy Poverty", which involved him traveling around various parts and trying to explain to the local photographers how much the foreign journalists would make from a single photo of their misery, and that if they did the same...

the UN has called these wars and conflicts the "worst since WW2", and it doesn't even make headlines in the west or east.

someone threw out an equation, something like 100 African deaths = 10 Middle Eastern deaths = 1 European death to the news media.

and someone else commented that when he hears the endless reports about the Gaza strip and the jews vs. arabs thing, he's just like "shut the fuck up already." adding "of course there are many socio economic geo political reasons for the focus on the conflict in that region, but we need to balance it out a little bit with reports of things like what is happening in places like Congo.

"what is the answer to the question asked by a first world citizen: 'what can i do to help'?" "the only one is Not Much". of course there are cosmetic things one can do, but it can not amount to much of anything in the face of this kind of pandemic suffering. and most people really devoted to the cause, who volunteer in these places, soon see their own lives fall apart...
for me, any concept of "right" and "wrong" and justice and morality just fall apart like a house of cards in a tornado when i consider this, and especially how it is directly connected to the life of obscene luxury that i live.

had a hard time sleeping last night and am crying as i type this.


dave said...

One of the most horrible stories i've heard and I completely missed it because of all the current focus being on Israel/Gaza.

Searching news now, the incident was mentioned briefly in some press. Reports varied from 45-500 killed. Imagine if the same thing had happened in the US?

zhao said...

i suppose the lack of mention in media is partly due to the simple powerlessness one inevitably feels... (that and racism and a whole lot of other reasons) but of course it is no excuse not to report atrocities of this magnitude.