My world is coming apart at the seams. I’m safe, but can barely do anything about it, which is almost more infuriating.
Thousands of people have been fleeing Burundi over the past few weeks. Frustrations boiled over after the ruling party declared the incumbent president to be its candidate, meaning he’ll almost certainly get a third term in violation of the Burundian constitution. Thousands of people have been streaming over the border to neighbouring countries for a week or so now. Today things came to a head with roadblocks in ordinarily calm parts of the city and one of the best-known private radio stations being shut off for the offence of carrying protests live. It’s “the law of the jungle” (link in French, disturbing images) as my friends at the radio in Burundi put it.
Dieudonné has connections that were going to get him a Danish work visa, although his first application got rejected. Dieudonné, who has always been the most optimistic and relaxed of my Burundian friends, told me he was “seeing all the doors close behind him, one by one.” Now, *I* could go to Denmark tomorrow and bum around in bars and parks for three months. Not because I’m smarter or harder-working or have a better plan, but because I have a goddamn eagle on my passport. I could go bum around, but a young man stuck in a war zone, who only wants to go to graduate school, raise a family and get a job that uses his skills, is stuck. Because of where he happened to be born, for no other reason. And people wonder why migrants travel tens of thousands of miles and risk drowning, dying in the desert, getting swindled and heaven knows what other mishaps. No one does that for shits and giggles, but to get more out of life (read this). Luckily his Danish friends have his back and are contesting the denial. If the appeal doesn’t go through, he’s going to go to Rwanda for awhile, he says. I don’t see how they can deny, in good conscience, a visa to him under these circumstances. I don’t see how they can lock him in a war zone. But conscience doesn’t enter in to these kind of calculations. If embassies ever get tired of paying expats, with their inflated salaries and their retinues, they could probably use algorithms. Deny, deny, deny.
Pierre’s father just died…not from anything related to the civil unrest, but from an internal bleeding disorder. Sweet, kind Papa Pierre who, when I would stop by his office to say hi long after Pierre and I broke up, would smile the biggest smile, take both of my hands in his and call me “Ma fille!!” Pierre says he asked about me on the last day of his life, and told his oldest son to get out. Papa Pierre was his wife’s rock, and their youngest son– Pierre’s youngest brother– is only 11. And now this, now the war, now roadblocks going up around Nyakabiga. Doors closing one by one behind Pierre, too, just like Dieudo.
Emilie lost both her parents in the war more than 20 years ago, learning to fend for herself, with her brothers and her God, while I was still sitting on my grandmother’s couch watching Barney. She never lost her smile and her blind faith in the future, the whole time I’ve known her. Now she wants to get out. She says she has a friend of a friend in Dar es Salaam. I’ve sent her $100 so she could get there. Now all I can do is hope that this “friend of a friend” isn’t a swindler or worse.
It pains me that all I can do is send $100 to exfiltrate one person. It physically pains me not to be there. I don’t know what I would concretely *do*, mind, except take a few people out to dinner and try to interest Western news agencies in the story, but I, selfishly, would feel better.
As it stands now, I just have to do my work and take solace in the fact that, as my Jewish and Muslim friends both cite from their religious texts,” for he who has saved one life it is as if he has saved the world entire.”
Fires were breaking out in Baltimore last night too. Anyone who has read the news has heard of what happened to Freddie Gray, a young black man who suffered a spinal cord injury in police custody and died a week later. There is debate on why exactly he was pulled into a cop car– whether it was for carrying a knife, for running away or for just looking at a police lieutenant the wrong way. I don’t suppose it matters much now, because he’s dead, this kid who could have been any of my high school friends’ brother, neighbour or boyfriend.
Anger at the police and law enforcement attitude toward African-Americans and toward poor people in general had been simmering under the surface like some kind of underground gas line for at least ten or fifteen years. Ferguson poked a hole in the gas line, and Freddie Gray’s death threw a match onto the hole. Literally. Several fires broke out, two buildings and two or three cars were destroyed (although there is debate about whether the biggest fire, on a construction site, would have broken out anyway because of hazards on the construction site). People looted pharmacies and liquor stores, using some of the stolen liquor to fuel the fires. Schools are closed and there has been a curfew put in place. Kids are throwing rocks at cops who are responding with pepper spray. Scenes that make you think of Haiti after contested elections or Occupied Palestine.
51 per cent youth unemployment, 40 per cent high school dropout rate, worthless public education for the majority, families getting their water turned off while other families, walking distance away, live in mansions and look down their noses at “those people.” It was a time bomb.
This New York Times article captures the frustrations of both sides without caricaturing either one…exemplary reporting. It’s longish, but please read to the bottom if ou care about the issue.
Different fires are burning in Nepal– the fires of funeral pyres as people bury their dead after an earthquake struck that country. Several thousand people were killed, men, women, boys and girls, young people and old people, people just like this survivor, who had done nothing wrong except stand in the wrong spot when the earth moved, or grow up in a poorly reinforced house. Death by fate.
Sunday night after work, I was over at a friend’s house. We were watching a reality show, chatting and looking at Facebook on our Apple devices, you know, as one does. One of my colleagues from the newspaper in Bujumbura had posted, to his Facebook, a picture of the body of a young man who had been killed in the clashes between protesters and police in Buja, with a caption along the lines of “The first of many deaths.” I covered it with my hand so my friend wouldn’t see. She didn’t need to see that, and it would have taken too long to properly explain–or so I thought. But our evening together was shot. I just couldn’t get back into the show we had been watching, get angry about a rip-off restaurant portion or laugh at an inane remark someone else had made. Maybe I should have explained, instead of just claiming to be tired and grumpy.
I was raised to believe the world is generally good and just, and unlike most people, I didn’t notice anything that would contradict that assessment until I was already an adult. One of my nicknames in grad school was actually “Bisounours” (“Care-Bear-Land”) because I had such a cheery outlook on humanity and the world in general. Well, you can damn well say goodbye to that.
My world is burning.