Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reminders from Countries Next Door

It’s amazing how human tragedies can so easily sit as abstract “happenings” in our consciences. Africa has a good share of these, and I’ve found it to be true that even living on the continent it is so easy to forget what may be happening in the next country or village over. I happened to meet a couple people this week who have personalized some of these issues we read about in the news.

Last night some Peace Corps friends introduced me to a twenty-five year old Guinean refugee who in September was one among thousands of Guineans gathered at Conakry Stadium in Guinea’s capital to protest the rumor that the unstable “President” (read: military autocrat) Captain Moussa Dadis Camara’s would “run” (read: rig) in the coming elections. Government supported troops were released on the crowds, resulting in sexual assaults and over a hundread deaths. My Guinean friend said he witnessed all of this, took photos with his cell phone camera, and sadly saw his own friend shot and killed.

A second acquaintance I made this week was of the cousin of some good Malian friends. Another young guy, for the last several years he’s been one of the thousands of desperate West African Africans who annually attempt to illegally migrate into Europe, normally by sea but by other means too. Often these human smuggling attempts end in tragic stories: boats capsizing, drownings, people found dead in airplane the landing gear housings. Motivated by economic desperation and rumors of opportunity, my friend has made multiple attempts, and three formidable ones, for which he had saved (and subsequently lost) a total of about $2,000, a small fortune in local terms. His stories are pretty amazing, and include days at sea in a hand-carved boat, detainments by Spanish authorities, travels by foot across Mauritania and Morocco, and being chased by dogs and airplanes. And he wants to keep trying. Apparently one of the tragedies of such ocean-crossings is that they’re surprising addicting to those who attempt them—despite the danger and the cost.