back to index
the Burden of Bullshit Information
(Why I didn't bother to vote for the President.)
Dateline: 12 November 2004
Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo --
The specter of U.S. elections and the prospect of four more years with George W. Bush as President couldn't be further from my consciousness. I'm not really at all distraught by the win or loss of either candidate, or by the stories floating around of election rigging and stolen votes.
Of course, I care.
I care, very deeply. I care about outcomes and possibilities and futures, about those whose lives will be determined, for better or worse, by the global political juggernaut. But I am not disenchanted, disheartened or without hope. Today, in fact, was one of the most interesting and fascinating days of my life, and it followed on an interesting and fascinating week.
I'd like to share my secret and I don't mean to offend anyone but speaking one's mind has become rather problematic in the USA. My truth is merely what I believe and feel at this stage of my life, based on my experience, and if it is offensive to some, an individual's response to what I have to say is not my problem, and it is not my responsibility to cuddle or soothe.
Indeed, it is symptomatic of the greater problems we as a country and a people face that I should have to preface my truth with a disclaimer. The greater problem is not an issue of freedom of speech -- I am free to speak. It is an issue of the freedom to listen or, rather, the fear of hearing.
Because I am in an internet caf' in rural Africa, I will be brief.
Today I flew in an old Russian (MI-8?) helicopter from the embattled and occupied town of Bunia, Congo, to the village of Fataki some 90 kilometers north. The chopper was piloted by Russians attached to the United Nations Observer Mission in Congo (MONUC); there were six Pakistani troops in full battle dress on board. There was one Congolese man working for the UN Development Programme, and yours truly.
The old chopper lifted out of Bunia and below I could see the refugee camp housing some 13,500 refugees from this brutal war in Ituri, the eastern-most district of Congo, abutting Uganda (west) and Sudan (north) and the rest of this vast country once dubbed the 'heart of darkness.'
I had visited that camp the day before, and what I saw was people living their lives. The political scene in the US couldn't be further from their immediate needs. The group of mourners on the hillside was burying one of their family, another dead body that didn't get counted in this war of some four to five million dead.
In the camp was a little Mbute girl ' the Mbute are one of the smallest members of the human family ' and we found her and asked her about the military attack in her area called "Effacer le Tableau" ' Erasing the Board . A militia group aligned with one of the superpowers had used that term to describe the total evisceration of the forest and the genocidal attacks against the Mbute and their Bantu neighbors.
The little girl -- Baimi Aliosi (15) ' was very shy. She hardly looked into your eyes before she would utterly melt back into her self. She came from deep within the forest, driven out by Effacer Le Tableau. Unlike so many others, she didn't look to me for her salvation. She continued to comb the knots out of her mama's hair ' a Bantu woman who had taken her in after her mother died ' and with a certain happiness and grace she just went on with her life in that camp.
'Really,' Baimi said, in the Mbute tongue, 'I want to go home.'
I had left the refugee camp to move around the town, and when I came upon a UN Armed Personnel Carrier (APC) unloading Moroccan soldiers at dusk, I took a few pictures. It is Ramadan, and the soldiers hadn't eaten, and they were hungry, but they hadn't received a briefing about the American journalist cleared to take photos and when I did they detained me. For an hour we all stood around while they radioed their commanders for orders on how to deal with me. In the end they let me go, and one big, burly Moroccan soldier -- who looked hardened by numerous wars -- smiled a toothless grin and put a sandwich and a cup of tea in my hand and said a prayer to Allah and shook my hand and sent me off.
As the refugee camp fell out of site and the chopper lifted over the terraced fields and hillsides of the countryside, I thought to myself that Baimi is another victim of a vast chess-game for natural resources and global control that I have set about to investigate here in central Africa. She has never hurt anyone. She will soon forget me, as she will those other white men and women who pass through the camp making no promises, or making some, and likely never returning.
As the chopper floated over the land I looked down at grass huts and red dirt tracks, at low hills and snaking black rivers, and it occurred to me that what is happening there ' the campaign of terror by militias armed and manipulated by outside forces ' is just like what happened in rural Latin America during the 1980's. People executed for no reason, or some reason. Women and girls raped and killed. People's hands cut off, or maybe their heads. The worst militia around might be the U.P.C. ' the Union of Congolese Patriots ' which is armed by Rwanda and Uganda and, behind them, the USA.
Like most of the other militias in this mess of a war, the U.P.C. is brutalizing people ad terrorizing the countryside.
Did this all distress me? A little, yes. But really it also empowered me, because I am here doing my best to change it. To report on it. To establish some means of breaking the cycle of violence and holding someone ' not just anyone ' accountable. And that feels right, and it feels just. Will I make a difference? Of course I wonder, and I hope, and I try to do the right thing in the face of unfathomable suffering and violence. And sometimes I fail.
'Everything you do will be meaningless,' Gandhi said. 'But you must do it.'
Just the night before I had met with a local man who told me where the U.P.C. is stockpiling weapons, in a village not so far from Fataki, maybe 50 kilometers. He told me the weapons arrive from Rwanda and Uganda, from embargo-busters coming across Lake Albert, which I had crossed in 1990 after arriving in Bunia by mountain bicycle.
Imagine that! Fourteen years after quitting GE Aerospace and cycling through a piece of Congo here I was investigating the war and defending human rights! Now that is serendipity. That is the magic of the unknown future. The blessing of undiscovered potential. That is the reason I am not distressed by the political scene in the USA. Who knows what will happen next?
All things pass.
As the chopper set down in the village of Fataki, some 200 kilometers from the site of a George Bush gold mining project (suspended because of the war) and a Pakistani Lieutenant named Hassan greeted us as we exited the helio. He had special chairs there in the field, and a table, and some tea and crumpets for the guests. He spoke English, and every request that I made regarding photos was granted. It was really very charming, but for the armed soldiers on high alert at the edges of the pad.
And that is how I ended up riding in a half-track APC troop carrier in rural Congo. The 7.62 mm machine gun sitting on top is like nothing I have ever seen up close, right out of Hitler's closet, and although I really want to play with it, I did not like the idea that people on the ground might mistake my purpose riding there.
As we passed the school yard children ran out and jumped and yelled to catch the attention of the Lt. Hassan, who was always waving, and of the white man with a camera. There were maybe 75 children, some almost naked. They smiled and jumped crazily.
Hassan took me all around and the Pakistanis ' who spoke nothing of English OR French ' always wanted to shake my hand and have their photos taken. No matter the goodness or badness of the war and the soldiers and the factions and even the United Nations mission ' all the negative things I have heard, and that I have to tell you about one day ' it was touching to once again experience and remember the goodness of ALL people.
When I told Lt. Hassan about the nearby arms depot he was surprised. How did I know this? He didn't doubt my information however, because it confirmed -- he said -- what he had heard as well. And so maybe someone's life will be saved mby that action. Lt. Hassan said he would send a search and cordon mission if HQ gave him the order, but he didn't think they would.
I didn't vote this year (absentee) because I do not believe that my vote matters. I do not believe that my vote will be counted for whom I intended it. I do not believe that John Kerry is any better or any worse that George Bush in any case. I think they are both suffering humans ' just like these soldiers ' but people of terrible leadership and misguided ethics.
I am very happy to be doing what I love to do, with strangers who share their humanity with me, no matter the thickness of their skin or the ugliness of their amour, to be living my life, away from the meaningless discussions of American news, and the soap operas of American issues. I am happy to be free of the propaganda, to be completely free of reactivity, and the negativity of the commercialism and advertisements and opinion polls, and to be making the future what I want it to be. I may completely fail in my mission,
but I will die doing everything I can to change the 'rotten state of affairs' that some people are complaining about. (I have done my share of complaining, in the past, no doubt.)
I did not vote for George Bush, and neither he nor John Kerry nor Bill Clinton nor Ralph Nader speaks for me, and they never will. Although George W. Bush perceives himself to be a leader of the United States, the country has NOT spoken.
I am happy not to be suffering the burdens of bullshit information. To be free of the endless bickering and snickering and cater-walling and name-calling. Why bother complaining? It is a waste of my precious life force. Like the man who painted children while interned in a concentration camp we needn't participate in the madness. We can tune it out, turn it off, build what we want. Are those who worry about the present state of affairs prepared to call and participate in a general strike? I don't think so. Let's plant flowers and grow good food and spread joy.
Now I will leave this little Internet caf' and enter the darkness of the town, where one cannot walk without fear of being shot. And I will go to the UN Headquarters and write about the big toothless Moroccan soldier of yesterday. I saw him today. Sitting in the shade of a few trees, high atop the APC, the machine gun in front of him. He looked at me and he smiled, and he waved, and it was a genuine connection that needed no words. I will write about the terror, and the possibility that tomorrow morning I will wake up and find him dead, because he stood his ground, and fought the UPC's terror of the night, while I was sleeping.
back to index
© keith is an INDEPENDENT freelance journalist and investigator entirely dependent on individual donations and voluntary contributions. He has lived under the poverty line for over a decade, and he has continues to work as a volunteer for three non-profit humanitarian organizations. Without your support, he cannot continue to do this important and insightful work.
||Your support makes this work possible!