Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, Bujumbura
I spent this weekend helping out at the final round of the Luganda and Sign Language My Language Spelling Bee, and celebrating one of my closest PCV friend’s birthday as well as our 2-year anniversary in-country. Two years is both a short and a long time. Coincidentally, I also got very sick during this weekend with extreme diarrhea and intense heat fluctuations where my body felt like it was an oven one moment and then felt like a freezer the next. Other than my sickness and fatigue, it was a very enjoyable weekend. I spent a lot of money on good food; the hung-over morning following the birthday celebration consisted of 10 PCV’s splurging on an all-you-can eat buffet at the Kampala Protea hotel complete with champagne, pastries, bacon, smoked salmon, kiwis, strawberries, cappuccinos, waffles, and eggs cooked to order. It was a sloppy breakfast; we ended up feeling very full and queasy because we all ate too much and were also still a bit drunk. At one point someone tried to stand up and knocked over a champagne glass, which shattered on the floor. But it was nice saying goodbye to PCV’s after such an enjoyable weekend.
On the other hand, there were other less-joyous events happening around the world. There were the Paris terrorist attacks that left 130 people dead, as well as attacks in Afghanistan and Lebanon, and the beginnings of genocide in Burundi. I started to see my Facebook newsfeed filled with notifications about the Paris attacks and solidarity with France. This was a very tragic event, and so many people seem to come together praying, sending positive messages, and standing together. However, I wonder how many people also feel just as passionate about the attacks and reckless violence happening in other countries. With Facebook as a platform for raising awareness and activism, is it our duty to make sure that people know it’s not just the developed world that we should care about?
I think back to my time before Peace Corps, and the discussion of rebels in the north of Uganda were such a foreign concept to me. The statistics of child soldiers, rebel attacks, and rampant diseases were so far removed that they just remained as numbers to me. Now they have faces and stories that have impacted my own life. I can’t ask every Ugandan about his or her tribe due to old tensions, I am friends with former child soldiers, and I am hard-pressed to find a Ugandan who hasn’t been threatened by malaria, HIV, or some form of dysentery. Now whenever I hear a news story that mentions Uganda, those numbers won’t remain mere numbers, but people with lives and stories.
It is kind of crazy the disproportionate amount of social media attention that stories in the United States, the Middle East, and Western European countries receive when tragic events occur. I’m not saying that it’s bad to grieve or spread awareness about events such as the Paris attacks, but it’s just interesting that genocide is beginning in Burundi and there seems to be little to know media attention or solidarity with the Burundians.
After the Holocaust, people proclaimed, “Never again.”
After the Darfur and Rwandan genocides, people proclaimed, “Never again.”
Now it’s happening in Burundi and the world can’t do anything about it.
Is it fair to place more care and emphasis on people’s lives that directly impact our own lives? Was it fair for me to feel solidarity with Boston during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing where a handful of people died as opposed to solidarity with Syrians when nerve gas used against them in Syria a few months later? In the United States social media erupts when there is any hint of racial discrimination and in some countries there are blatant attacks against groups of people due to their religious beliefs ethnic background, or social status.
It makes me wonder about the power of social media and if there are some things that just seem more glamorous to support or discuss. Honestly, I think that a temporary profile photo change to support France would be more likely to be seen as patriotic, sensitive, and appropriate compared to a photo depicting victims of terrorist and sectarian violence in African and Middle Eastern countries. Maybe it’s because the developed countries are seen as bastions of safety and freedom where attacks aren’t expected and Africa and the Middle East are seen as places where attacks happen all the time. There’s no longer any surprise if people were killed there but God forbid that people were attacked in developed countries, because that hits too close to home.
I still don’t know how I feel about these issues. Maybe part of the American Dream is that once you get to the US, you no longer have to worry about the troubles that plague other less stable countries. You can ignore the whisperings of a rebellion, the warnings to evacuate the village, or the last chance to board a refugee ship because those things no longer affect you. Perhaps that’s a bit why it’s called the Dream, because once you live it you no longer have to acknowledge all realities around the world; just the one that you care to worry about.
Is it a privilege or a right not to worry about what doesn’t directly affect our well-being? Should we worry about the plight of other people or only concern ourselves with our immediate spheres of influence?
Now as I am entering the last three weeks of my Peace Corps service I have fewer answers than I thought I had. I am looking forward to being worry-free and living with creature comforts. I don’t feel guilty anymore, but I am certain that there are things that could be done to make this world a better place. I guess that my version of the Dream is to find out what little I can do to achieve that.