Thursday, May 24, 2018
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Our humanity is tied together, undoubtedly and undisputedly.
Throughout our lives, connectivity either reveals itself, or doesn’t—it’s the observation of nature, and realizing an intricate and beautiful design that threads everything together. It’s finding likeminded individuals who eloquently explore the world in ways we never could; and yet somehow give a voice to our sense of absolute truth. It’s the unexpected way social media, the arts, overlapping philosophies, and religious epiphany create a deeper understanding and context for our experiences. It’s traveling and uncovering a shared humanity with those in the farthest stretches of the planet. Its countless shared tragedies and joys binding us irrevocably, as comrades in arms, in the depth of human experience—recognizing the infinite love and potential that we are capable of cultivating. It’s uncovering the strength of vulnerability in our togetherness and the challenges we face when we stand alone. It’s available, and it’s waiting to reveal itself, as long as we are willing to open our eyes.
I’ve been removed from the States, my home country, for two years now; and so, my lens is admittedly not a current insider’s perspective. But even before this, my disdain for the American mindset, interpretation of the American dream, and view of America as exploitative has made me a Negative Nancy when broaching issues concerning our great USA. Nancy’s negativity is amplified tenfold when we begin treating Human Rights as political issues, losing sight of empathy, compassion, and our shared humanity. When we remove identity and replace it with statistics, monetary value, and ‘us versus them mentality’, or treat some as allies and others as dogs, we are intentionally fooling ourselves to feel better about the harmful choices we’re about to make—and the lives we’re willing to endanger. We are failing to take responsibility for our role on the world stage, and what that’s meant on a global scale. And last but not least, we are making the art of turning our backs to those in need, in some way justifiable. And so, when I’m told that I’m simplifying issues to my understanding of what is moral and what is ethical, I say, “Damn right.” When I’m asked how this is any different or more valuable than those who use religious arguments while debating politics, I say, “Google Humanism, then get back to me.” Or, "Maybe read your book of ethics a bit closer." We are failing our fellow human beings and we are absolutely failing ourselves.
"You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 22:21)
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me soething to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in." (Matthew 25:35)
"You shall not hand over to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall live with you in your midst, in the place which he shall choose in one of your towns where it pleases him; you shall not mistreat him." (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)
“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:33-34)
Need I say more?^
I’ve learned more about what it means to be an American while living in Africa these past two years than my entire life living as an American in the US. Conversations with Malawians, expats, and other PCVs and living away from home has made me radically redefine this sense of identity. While I’m still no fan, I’ve come to love and respect my country more than I’d ever thought possible through new outlooks and experiences in a developing world—which is saying a lot, seeing as all I’m reading in the news and on social media is racial tensions boiling over, an unjust justice system prevailing, massive gun deaths, exclusion, feeble excuses and justifications for inaction or wrongful choices, and most disturbingly a sense of righteous hatred.
While righteous anger can be an all-consuming slippery slope, it holds value in its ability to educate, to initiate real progress and change while tackling injustice, there is, however no such thing as, 'righteous hatred.' Sorry to break it to you, but hatred and anything born from it is not justice, no matter how justifiable it may seem. It's just bigotry, misunderstanding, ignorance--a refusal to see beyond our anger. Hatred begets further hatred. Fearmongering does the same. Separating 'us' from 'them' only creates isolation, distrust, and a further divide in recognizing the underlying connection and humanity in one another.
Need exists everywhere and all the time. Ignoring or refusal to help in a critical situation, where aid can and should be freely given seems deeply and inherently wrong. That's not to say that we should stop doing the work that countless organizations, and wonderful human beings are doing on our home turf with any of the multitude of issues affecting Americans; but it does beg the question, why does this issue only arise with great passion, focus, and outcry when we are denying help to foreign people or foreign lands?
To discount one person's tragedy over another's because they belong to us makes no sense. I wish there was always such a strong emphasis on relieving injustices and inequity in our own land, but it's almost as if we keep these players in their state of duress as a barrier of social responsibility. This 'ride or die', 'look after our own mentality' has never done much good for us--in fact, it only prevents good we can do for others.
Have we forgotten what the word refugee means? Do we have any sense of what a refugee has given up just for the chance to live? I imagine most of us have absolutely no frame of reference for what it means to leave your home, country, language, culture, income, family--to not have a way to feed yourself, manage a menstrual cycle, keep warm, a place to safely lay your head, or having your life depend on fleeing from violence. We suffered from 9/11, Paris suffered just days ago--but Syrian refugees, what have they suffered through, and for how long--just to run to some sense of respite? All of this only to be met with further discrimination, fear, apathy, and indignation.
Where is our empathy and why does our excessive fear trump it at every turn?
I believe strongly that with ability, comes social and moral obligation and responsibility to give back. When we start deciding who is worthy, placing our own value statements, and judgements on who is deserving of salvation, and who isn't, we're playing a seriously dangerous game. There are real lives at stake here.
But, I honestly believe, to my core, that we have a moral and ethical responsibility and imperative to one another. Honestly, what does nationality even have to do with this? This is a question of remembering our humanity and doing what is right.
And so what should I do when these issues weigh heavily on my heart? Do I ignore the hateful or misguided ideas spewed out by friends, family, and acquaintances--and wait for the storm to pass? Do I try on focus on my life here and the present, and let shit work itself out? Do I engage and start what are bound to be frustrating painful dialogues where we all leave bruised and battered? Do I look for others to affirm the hurt building in my heart, and together lament that the world just doesn't get it? Do I listen to friends who tell me to just chill the fuck out? Honestly, I'm asking, cause I don't know.
My only idea is from a friend reaching out to everyone in hopes that they'll call their elected officials and..
"..tell them that not only does refusing refugees on the basis of fear contradict everything America is supposed to be about, but that it also is exactly what Daesh/ISIS wants. Or, if they're not a kneejerk xenophobe or not so cowed by possibility that they ignore reality and humanity, you can write and/or call to thank them."
If you need help, you can find them here: http://goo.gl/tmVABd
That's all I got.
Sunday, October 18, 2015
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Friday, May 15, 2015
Tuesday, May 5, 2015
Walking around my village, and areas where I live and hearing the word, "azungu" immediately hardens my heart and toughens my hide. Depending on the circumstance, the anger causes my hair to prickle. I have, it seems, developed a literal physical reaction to that term. Azungu.
One with money.
One who has come to give me things.
One who will take me to America.
Okay, so only the first three are legitimate translations, but the others are held beliefs
I don't always despise this term but there comes times when it breaks you down. It breaks your heart a little that the people who know you deny you a name and an identity.
While I say all this, azungu is not an inherently insulting term. In many contexts, its perfectly fine, even the correct term, and thus not anger inducing. Therefore correcting someone can be an art, and their reactions unexpectedly fall on either side of the spectrum. They either tend to laugh, heartedly, and in my face--or be embarrassed. Referring to me in passing to someone else as an azungu is fine (if I'm out of earshot) but to address me as such is plainly rude. The distinction though flimsy, is tolerable.
Being called azungu is the obvious, in your face admission of, "you are different and I'm acknowledging it." Its taken eight months for the term to get under my skin, and while I'm happy that I've been such a cool cucumber up until now-- it's also embarrassing. Man, there's no way I could make it as a black woman in the states, huh? I'd have it much worse, on a consistent basis, with no escape, with no choice in the matter, trapped in a characterization of an identity very visible to all and completely inescapable. This experience, however will fade back into a minor annoyance when I'm back in the states and part of "the majority"--and eventually in the future might even be something that I'd laugh at myself for, "Wow, how frustrated I used to get. I used to lose my shit over that."
Lets talk about entitlement. You know, that golden reason children and parents resent each other until the offspring reach their years of independence. That rhetoric-ridden battle cry of white male US senators everywhere. Or, more simply put, the American way. If there was one thing I was not expecting when I came to Malawi, one of the least developed countries in Africa, and the world, it was a strong sense of entitlement.
Lately, I've gone through a period where I've felt constantly on guard, hardened, even more distrusting, and just plain exhausted in my interactions with Malawians. You name it, they want it. And for the record, it's honest to goodness out of need, and because of our shared shitty developmental history. So, there is literally no shame, nor is it seen as inappropriate to ask me for anything.. All the things. It's also a cultural practice to share basically everything, almost without question. (And so without shared resources, it looks like PCVs and other expats are hoarding treasure troves from their communities.) Can't even tell you how many iwes I've run into who don't know a lick of English except for what their parents have taught them, "Azungu, give me money." The joke is, that we had a large hand in creating this mess and further exesperate it..
-Men admitting to wanting to have sex with a white girl "just once"
-Marriage proposals and admissions of love constantly
-Everything is exorbitantly priced. "Azungu Mtengo"
-"Madam, what the difference is between me and you?"
-"I want you to be my friend."
It's hard because good, solid, real relationships are what make me whole. They're everything to me. Sometimes its really challenging feeling like I can't make authentic relationships with Malawians because I'm being sought out for mobility or utility and not as one human being to another. More than anything in my life here, this is my struggle.. But