Thursday, August 30, 2007

Touring an African jail: I found an empty cell here for George Bush!

“I’m only 19 years old and I’m in jail for life,” wailed a forlorn prisoner as I walked past my village’s correctional facility today. Intrigued, I stopped in to talk with the warden.

“You understand that I can’t take you back to the cells without permission from the provincial director,” said the warden, “but if you come back on Monday I’m sure you can get approved with no problem.”

“That won’t be necessary, really,” I replied, "because I only have a few questions to ask and you could probably answer them for me here and now.” Who cares if the cells are clean or dirty or what prison conditions are like. I just want to know some very basic information here. “How many prisoners does this jail hold?”

“We currently have the capacity to incarcerate 150 prisoners.”

“And how many do you have now?”

“We have 21 males and 15 females,” the warden replied. My village is not really a high crime area and most of the prisoners here are illegal aliens from nearby war-torn countries such as Zimbabwe and Nigeria.

“So you would have room for one or two more?”

“Surely. We do.” Bingo! If Congress continues to arbitrarily refuse to put Bush and Cheney in jail in America. then guess what? We can always ship them off to Africa! There’s plenty of room for them here!

PS: Recently Zimbabwe's maniac president instigated a wiretapping program that will read everyone's e-mails and listen in on their phone conversations. A bunch of heads of state from all over the world got together and screamed bloody murder about this blatant invasion of individual privacy -- but George Bush has been silent on this issue. Why? Because the maniac president of Zimbabwe copied his scandalous wiretapping program almost word for word off of the maniac president [sic] of the United States' wiretapping program.

"Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free...." Nope.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Darfur Diaspora: Floating like driftwood throughout all of Africa...

As I was walking home from the village tuckshop – consisting of a building the size of a large closet with five mostly-empty shelves stocked with three loaves of bread, five boxes of tea, ten bags of mealie-meal, four jars of penny-candy and the makings for the best French fries you’ll ever have – I ran into an elderly Irish Catholic nun who was out walking her dog before sunset (as a general rule in the part of Africa where I am now, most women – even crazy Americans like me – make it a point to be at home behind locked doors before dark every night. No nightlife here for us ladies! It just isn’t safe.)

The nun and I got to talking about this and that as we walked together down the dusty red-dirt road. “Did you know that some of those squatters over at the edge of the village are refugees from Darfur,” she asked me. Really? I wonder how the freak they got all the way down here, over a thousand miles away from Sudan.

“Do you think it would be possible for me to go over and talk to them….” I asked the nun. This could be a scoop. I’d been trying to get into Darfur for over a year now and it appears that no journalists are being let in any more. We are all being told that same old “Closed Military Zone” bull-dookie that keeps reporters out of areas where there is genocide going on these days – not like the good old days when being a war correspondent was just a matter of getting to a war zone, taking good notes and avoiding getting shot. No, news is being carefully managed these days – especially in the Darfur region of Sudan.

“Come visit me tomorrow,” said the nun, “and I’ll take you over there.” Cool. But the next day I couldn’t find either the nun or the squatters. Perhaps they had only been a figment of my Pulitzer-Prize-seeking imagination.

And then yesterday I ran into an American tourist who had just gotten back from Zambia. “While I was there, I talked with several Darfur refugees,” he mentioned in the course of our conversation. All the freak way down in Zambia? Wow. “One was a teacher, who said that he still wanted to go back and was planning to go back next year.”

Then I talked with an interesting older man from our village whose father had worked in the mines in Kimberly back in the 1930s. “My father had 11 children and even though black miners were treated like dirt back then and we were very very poor when I was growing up, he still made sure that all 11 of us got a good education. My youngest sister became a nurse and now she is working for an NGO at a hospital in Darfur.” Oh please please please! Can I have her cell phone number! With all the closed military zones in the world these days – I myself have been thrown out of Iraq and apparently will never be allowed back in again and my efforts to get into Gaza have totally fizzled – one gathers information, news (gossip) about war zones wherever one can.

Then I ran into someone from Zimbabwe and asked her if there were any Darfur refugees there. “Are you kidding?” she replied. “Why in the world would any refugee want to leave one hell-hole to come to another one? Zimbabwe is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and our people are wonderful but the government there is falling apart and it is definitely a failed state. Inflation is up five THOUSAND percent. Millions of people have fled the country. They don’t even have electricity in their three major cities, the president is a raving maniac and the Zimbabweans who are left are just barely holding on until the elections in March – not exactly a destination of choice for the massacre survivors of Darfur. Tell them to try Kenya or Ghana.”

I also talked with a tourist from Russia who told me that they even have refugees from the Sudan living in Moscow. But that’s another story. And of course Darfur refugees can be found in Egypt, Libya, Chad and Mali as well. Good for them. They may be living far from their homes. They may be suffering. They may be strangers in a strange land. But at least they’re alive.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Have remote, will travel: Imagine never having to see Bush & Iraq on TV again!

I have a friend who is visiting Sweden this summer and I just got a letter from her. Wanna hear it? Nod your head "yes".

"Dear Jane," my friend wrote, "I really like it here except that sometimes it gets really cold at night. For instance, last night I went to bed with a knit watch-cap, a hot water bottle, an Arctic-strength sleeping bag, a blanket, a comforter, a duvet, a throw rug, a flannel nightgown, a sweater, silk long-johns, a pair of socks and my bunny slippers and I was STILL cold. But other than that, I really like it here." Bunny slippers?

"The people in Sweden are really nice," the letter continued, "but what I really like most about this place is that when you turn on the evening news here, they are always discussing ways to make their already-outstanding schools even better or to improve their already-fabulous healthcare...." Enough about that! I'm sick and tired of people always bragging about how Sweden takes such good care of its citizens. Don't these people realize that AMERICA'S education and healthcare systems are the best in the world -- with perhaps the exception of only 36 other countries. But hey. We managed to beat out Slovenia....

"But what impressed me most here," continued my friend, "is that we don't have to keep watching all those gruesome images of Bush's disastrous war on Iraq every night on TV or constantly hear news anchors tell us night after night about how the 'war' is getting more and more bogged down or watch helplessly as more and more of our country's wealth is being spent on manufacturing weapons made by Bush and Cheney's friends -- the ones who are making money hand over fist on this 'war' and who aren't even GRATEFUL to us for supplying them with private islands and Lamborghinis and diamonds as big as the Ritz and who laugh at us behind our backs, knowing that it doesn't MATTER if America wins or loses in Iraq as long as we keep spending our money on weapons instead of on stuff like education and healthcare." Good point. Bush's friends don't get any kick-backs from paying more money to teachers.

"I never realized how distressing it has been to watch news shows in America every night until I came here and wasn't forced to be reminded 24/7 about how our country's 'leaders' are wasting our patrimony on killing women and children in foreign lands instead of on decent education and healthcare. You have absolutely no idea what a relief it is not to have to hear about Iraq every night."

Well, if you are worried about having to hear about Iraq every night, that's easily fixed. Bush and Cheney can solve this problem in a flash. All they have to do is write up an executive order stating that TV stations here in America will no longer be allowed to mention Iraq on the news. End of problem! Now if we can only get GWB to stop forcing us to have to watch video images night after night of him striding manfully across the White House lawn and smiling happily (I'd be smiling happily too if I had the kind of big bucks that he has stolen from American taxpayers in the last seven years!) and waving at news cameras like he was the Queen. Yuck!

What's the matter with you, America? Have you lost your freaking remote! Just get up off the couch, change the freaking channel and put Bush and Cheney in jail.

PS: My friend also went on to say that the commercial breaks on European TV are very much shorter than the commercial breaks here. But that wouldn't be too hard to achieve. Our breaks are REALLY long! During a typical commercial break on my local affiliate station, I can run to the kitchen, do the dishes, make a snack, chat on the phone with a friend and still manage to be back in my chair in time for the next segment of "Big Brother".

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Where's the beef: How I almost ate a whole cow...and am now at the dentist

I'm way the freak over here in Africa with no recourse to the internet as a general rule but today I got lucky so here's another tale from the bush -- no, I'm not referring to the Bush who stole the White House and is successfully using America's gullibility to turn himself into the world's first trillionaire. This time I'm talking about a geographical feature of Africa.

In any case, last Saturday I went to a village celebration wherein they slaughtered a cow -- and I bet I ate at least half of it. The meat was stringy but after having lived on eggs and toast for the last two weeks -- yes we have chickens running around in our yard -- I was all protein-deprived so the cow tasted totally fantastic as far as I was concerned.

Sorry I don't have a photo of the event but a good time was had by all. At least 50 people came to the feast and it was a total success. Us women cooked, did dishes and talked about weighty matters while the men got drunk on sorghum home-made beer and acted like brats. But we ignored them.

With no running water readily available in most houses in my village, the dishes here are done by heating a cauldron over an open fire, adding the dishes, throwing in some detergent (a lot of detergent) and then wiping the detergent off. At first I was horrified by this technique but after three weeks of still not being sick from germs or nothing, I figured "What the heck" -- Americans are just picky about sanitation. But I am here to tell you that NO American health inspector would ever grant a passing grade to the town's only restaurant without risking his or her job. BTW, it serves chicken, rice, beets, pumpkin, cabbage and grits on its fixed-price menu. And well worth the $2.25!

PS: I am now in the nearest market town, trying to get my tooth repaired after having chewed all that beef.

The Sun Also Rises: News from sub-Saharan Africa

I’m currently staying in a village in Africa that pretty much looks like a village in Mexico – dusty paths, adobe homes, friendly residents and lots of chickens and goats. And the town just east of us is called “Bracalalo”.

“Do you know how to determine where the sun is going to rise every morning?” I asked a woman that I rent a room from.

“No, how?” she gamely replied.

“The chickens tell us! At 5:30 am every morning, they all start screaming, ‘Bracalalo!’” Then we both cracked up laughing. Maybe it wasn’t the best chicken joke in the world but we liked it.

My NGO is training me to work in a sub-Saharan African village, helping out in the AIDS clinic and the school. It’s a lot of work but the people I’ve met are nice and I really like it here -- but the nearest internet access is 60 kilometers away by public “taxi” so with regard to communication with the outside world, I’ve pretty much fallen off the face of the earth.

With regard to hoping for a perfect world filled with peace and justice, however, I’m still at the top of my game. And I’m still hoping that some time really soon, someone will somehow manage to get word to me that the American people have finally wised up and that Bush and Cheney are now in jail.

According to one of my African friends, “The President [sic] of America and the President of Zimbabwe are a lot alike because they both like to see human blood spilled – but they are also different because Bush has a lot more money to do it with.”

PS: I still don't have access to the internet but am working on it. The nearest internet cafe currently is 60 km away.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Truth & Reconciliation: The Israeli neo-cons need to 'fess up!

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was able to heal the terrible rift between the oppressors and the oppressed by allowing men who had done terrible things to their fellow men in the name of Apartheid to confess their crimes and be absolved.

"Where in the world did you get the compassion and courage to forgive men who had placed y6ou in Bantustans and treated you like cattle?" I recently asked a black South African friend.

“We did it because of Nelson Mandela,” replied my friend. “He said that he had looked into the results of other countries’ actions under similar circumstances where no one was forgiven and bloody civil wars resulted. He asked us to do it and we did.”

Ehud Olmert and the Israeli neo-cons are currently doing terrible things to Palestinians in the name of Apartheid. Maybe they should be allowed to confess and be forgiven too! “I turned Gaza into a Bantustan,” Olmert would confess. “I herded a million people into townships and I stripped them of their dignity and their livihoods and their education and their human rights. I made them carry passes and treated them like they were less than human. I’m sorry that I did this. Please forgive me. And then the Palestinians forgave the Israeli neo-cons and a strong nation was formed? Not exactly.

“You also have to remember,” said my Black South African friend, “that even though we in the townships held the moral high ground, Apartheid would never have ended – would have stretched on forever – if we hadn’t also cut off the South African Defense Force’s money. Always remember that it was the divestment strategies, not the hatred of injustice or even the protests, that ended Apartheid.” Oh.

Wanna end Apartheid in Israel and Palestine by following the South African model? Wanna create peace and harmony in the Holy Land? Truth and reconciliation is a wonderful second step to take right now. But never forget that the first step toward healing and redemption is to cut off the oppressors’ funds – beginning with the billions of $$$ that American neo-cons pour into the Israeli neo-cons’ coffers each year.

“Amandla, guys!”